The Texas Lyceum, a self-styled association of Texans who, according to their literature “identify and develop the next generation of top leadership in the State of Texas” held their quarterly meeting in Marfa a few weeks ago. Their literature states that the “Lyceum acts as a catalyst to bring together diverse opinions and expertise to focus on national and state issues”. The literature further adds that it “has over 30 years of history in identifying leaders, educating them on pressing policy issues facing the state, and being a steward of the values that characterize the State of Texas”. The document goes on to state that the Texas Lyceum Board of Directors is comprised of 96 men and women, among them are former US President, George W. Bush, former US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison among other notable Texans.
I had never heard of this group prior to them first contacting me shortly before they were staging their meeting in Marfa. The first thing I noticed was that I did not see any El Pasoans on the initial literature. I have always heard complaints emanating from El Paso about how Austin and the rest of the nation doesn’t understand El Paso, therefore I was curious to see if a “leadership” group having a meeting close to El Paso had any connections to the city.
According to the event promotion their meeting on August 8 through the 10th was the first time they had ever been to Marfa in its 33 years of existence. That got me wondering if the group had ever had any meetings in El Paso and whether there were active members from El Paso. So I asked the coordinators for information.
Amber LaFrance kindly answered the questions for me and facilitated additional information from the organization. According to LaFrance, the “Lyceum has strong ties with the city of El Paso, in fact, there are nine directors of the Lyceum currently from West Texas, of whom six are from El Paso”. She added that Renard Johnson is serving as Vice President of Strategy for the organization and Laura Enriquez is serving on the Annual Nominating Committee.
El Paso was represented in a leadership capacity by Johnson, president of METI, Laura Ponce, Executive Director of Project Bravo and Veronica Soto, Executive Director of the El Paso Downtown Management District.
Amber added that the Lyceum held meetings in El Paso in 1983, 1986, 1988, 1999 and 2008.
As a leadership group for Texas, I had some questions about how El Paso fits into their matrix so I asked Amber LaFrance how does the organization go about identifying and selecting issues that they address, once selected how does the group go about addressing them and whether the group “mentor’s” future leaders.
According to LaFrance, the group identifies the issues that they will address at each quarterly meeting. Some of the topics they have covered include healthcare, transportation, gambling and others. LaFrance adds that they address the identified issues “by inviting many speakers and presenters to give perspective on the topic”. She adds that the Lyceum “acts a catalyst to bring together diverse opinions and expertise”.
As for “mentoring leaders”, LaFrance wrote that the 96 directors “must be under the age of 46 when they are selected”.
One of the El Paso attendees, Laura Ponce, Executive Director of Project Bravo stated; “As a resident of West Texas, I have been to Marfa on several occasions and it’s always been a wonderful and strange experience to see the ranching and art communities occupy the same space. The Texas Lyceum Marfa meeting provided me with a unique opportunity to see this community through the eyes of its leaders, both civic and cultural, and understand how these two seemingly different groups have found common ground. I was even more impressed at the economic development that is taking place in a town of 2121 residents that is attracting visitors from all over the world and millions of dollars in funding for projects such as the Marfa Drive-in, the Marfa Ballroom, and the Chinati Foundation.”
Ponce added, “It is my first year as a Director in the Texas Lyceum and I am thoroughly impressed by the intelligence, purpose, personal character, and diverse perspectives of the Lyceum members. The Texas Lyceum is a unique organization that allows Texas leaders from diverse backgrounds, business and non-profit, Republicans and Democrats, rural and metropolitan areas, to have thoughtful discussions that leads to collaboration and action for the betterment of our great state. I am humbled to be a part of the Texas Lyceum and I am looking forward to my next two years of service.”
El Paso Downtown Management District Executive Director, Veronica Soto said about her participation in the event, “The Texas Lyceum organizes great quality meetings that truly highlight what is unique and different about Texas, preparing members for challenges ahead. The Marfa meeting was one of those special events where the rest of the Lyceum members in Texas got to hear what a lot of the L.A. and New York artist crowds already know; they were able to highlight a not-so-well-kept secret in Texas.”
Like myself, there are many in El Paso who had never heard of this group. However, there seems to be much connection between it and the city. As a leadership development group it is good to see El Paso represented.