Cara Leepson’s advice to newcomers to Charleston is to make sure to plug in to everything the city offers.
“Think about why you live here and be able to enjoy it,” said the 34-year-old executive director of the Redux Contemporary Art Center while sitting in her Riverland Terrace cottage. A comfortable breeze poured in through open doors.
“The environment, the beach, the rivers, the outdoors, the restaurants, the music and the people — all of it — are what make Charleston Charleston. Be able to take advantage of all of that. Otherwise, you could live anywhere. Why are you moving here if you can’t appreciate all of that?”
Leepson first moved to the Holy City in 2009 after graduating from Lynchburg College with a degree in studio art. She intended to stay for the season, but ended up with a year-long internship at Redux, where she learned the day-to-day operations of an art gallery. After a year, she returned to the Washington, D.C., area, where she grew up, to get a graduate degree in art and museum studies from Georgetown University. Then, she stayed in the area, a dream for people in her field because of all of the world-class museums in the nation’s capital. But in 2017, Charleston called her to return, this time as head of the Redux. Today, it’s a huge space on upper King Street that includes 38 studios for artists and exhibition space as well as far-reaching arts education and outreach programs.
“A little obsessed”
As one might expect, art fills the walls of Leepson’s two-bedroom home, conveniently located at the end of a quiet street next to a park and just minutes from a favorite haunt, the Pour House.
A melted Topo Chico bottle catches the eye. It’s mounted on a living room wall, surrounded by an array of small contemporary paintings.
Leepson easily admits she’s “a little obsessed” by the sparkling Mexican spring water. Why? Because she says its bubbles are bigger and create a more refreshing experience.
“I’ve been drinking it for six or seven years. It’s so good. It’s the most refreshing out of all of the sparkling waters. I used to drink a lot of La Croix, but once I got Topo Chico, there was no going back.”
(Editor’s note: We have to admit, the water does, in fact, appear to have “bigger” bubbles that seem to last longer on the back of the tongue, giving more of a sizzle to the water’s fizz than typical bubbly waters. Score one for Leepson.)
When asked what the obsession with Topo Chico might reflect about her, Leepson pondered and countered, “It’s become a part of an identity that I didn’t expect — that I have good taste in simple things. I kind of like that I liked it before everybody else knew about it.”
Another obsession is a love for the band Widespread Panic and its live performances. Leepson said she stopped counting how many she had attended after going to her 100th concert.
“I love the music. I love the people. I love traveling to fun places with so much music.”
Her passion for the band’s music, plus her experience at Redux, helped her work with the band’s manager to bring together the Trondossa Music and Arts Festival in North Charleston in 2018 and 2019. While the pandemic caused cancellation of the 2020 two-day event, it may be back, she said.
Leepson also has been blending her management talents and music passion into another outlet, Ohm Radio, the funky nonprofit station at 96.3 on the FM dial. As vice president of the board, she said she’s been enjoying working to promote good, local music and help the station continue its mission.
Leepson said since she’s returned to Charleston, she has come to better understand the community.
The arts community is tight, friendly and evolving, but Charleston also sort of stays the same, she said, which makes it comfortable and a good place to live.
“It’s the balance of working and playing,” she said, noting how life in Washington always seemed to be about the grind of work or people looking to escape the city. “It’s the people here who are all kind of with the same mindset.”
Like many across the country, she’s spent a lot of time at home during the months of the pandemic. But, she’s enjoyed blending outdoor living — she has a fairly new outdoor shower with a mural on it, a deck, screened-in porch and greenhouse — with fresh, open rooms that are relaxing for her and her two dogs.
And she continues to enjoy working with artists at Redux. While she has an undergraduate degree in studio art, she realized early she didn’t want to be a full-time artist. After internships in Charleston and work and study in Washington, she has found her niche in helping other artists.
“I have a pretty good understanding of how the artist mind works and how the creative process works and can use my skills to help artists,” she said. “Artists need arts administrators, and I’m happy to take that role.”
Next on her list: More Topo Chico.