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From levees to murals

From Chicago to Peoria, Ill., to Puerto Rico to Tunisia Sangre de Cristo Arts Center Executive Director Jim Richerson has held jobs all over the world. But Colorado has always been in the back of his mind, from the minute he vacationed near Monarch in the 70s. Recently, he sat down with Kara Mason to talk about the arts center, his goals and visions and the local art scene.

You’ve been at the arts center for a year this March, what were some of your big goals when you took the job of executive director?

I think goal-setting is very interesting. But it’s rather presumptuous to come into a job with goals. I’m a facilitator, so one of the things I did before I accepted the job was I put together a one-page survey, and gave it to the board and the staff because it’s a tool like that that helps me understand how I can help an organization. Out of that survey I got a sense of where consensus might be and what would be the first big things to do.

What did you find with that survey?

The three things that really came out of it for me was a lot of people had said the arts center had fallen off of people’s radar. A number of people said that they really felt that some of our major funders had stepped back because of the change of the guard. I was the fifth person since Maggie. The other thing that really came out was a good number of people said, ‘what’s the plan for the arts center? Where’s it going?’ So, I really took those things and I ran with them. A plan takes some time, but the other two things I’ve felt I’ve already addressed being here about a year.

A year seems like not a lot of time. What progress have you seen?

I really felt bringing Picasso, Matisse and Chagall here did that. It really did have a positive effect for us. And it really did help us re-engage with some major funders. So, two of the things we’ve addressed and I feel we’re on a good path.

One criticism of the arts center is that it really caters to children and older patrons. There’s so much here for them. How do you capture the twenty-somethings?

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of engaging younger artists. Like, Own-Your-Own — that’s an economic opportunity for them. You can go upstairs today and in the gallery is Maeve Eichelberger who hails from North of Denver — Maeve, I think, is 23-years-old. I think that’s more myth than reality in my short tenure here. I think we do a pretty good job. I see a lot of high school kids here. We do First Friday Artwalk and I definitely see your demographic come in here.

But I’d like to turn that proposition around and ask how we become compelling so that you support us as members. It’s an important time in your life to support community efforts. I think we owe you more things, and it’s a give and take situation.

In the past year we’ve seen some major shows come through the arts center. How do you keep that going? How do you top Picasso?

Well, stay tuned. I’ve been very lucky in my career to get to know some people with some pretty unbelievable collections. But it’s a balancing act. I realize that the arts center has a community and regional role to play, but I also feel with the horsepower the arts center has we owe it to the community to find Picasso, Matisse and Chegal. My goal each year is to have a significant regional show. This summer Colors of the Southwest will be here. Ninety-three artists from Taos and Santa Fe will be coming.

Having a fresh set of eyes and being right in the middle of Southern Colorado’s art scene, what are difficulties you see our art community encountering?

You know, I don’t see many difficulties at all. I see a lot of upside. There is just a rich spirit of valuing art-making in this community. The levee is a perfect example of something that has been going on for decades. I look at the Creative Corridor and other creative efforts, and I see a lot of energy. I see a lot of upside in how we can engage that energy.

What do you see as major strengths in our art scene? Is it murals? What about fine art?

I clearly think the murals are strong and powerful. I look at the murals being done. There’s a lot of workshops for that form of expression, and that fine art that’s going on here is a great way to refine the eye and look at lots of different genre’s of art. But the street art is also important in energizing the scene.

Which local artists should we be watching right now?

That’s a dangerous question, and you’re not going to get an answer out of me. I think there’s a lot of exciting artists going on.

What direction would you like to see local art take?

I don’t think you can predict a direction. I think you just have to keep a conducive environment going. I did a project in Peoria with some engineers — and engineers, of course, are very concerned with all of the inputs so they can predict the outcome — and it was a frustrating relationship because they would say “Jim, we don’t understand all of your inputs and your output is really difficult to understand.” And I said let’s look at what I value as the output. To me, what I’m looking for in the output is something creative and innovative, otherwise known as art.

I’m old enough to understand now that if I understood the outcome from all of the inputs, the outcome would probably not be that creative. And so I have to tolerate and embrace these unknowns because I think it’s going to energize an output.

Maybe that needing to know the output is a little ingrained in our culture being a manufacturing town.

Oh, it is.

What do you want your legacy at the arts center to be?

Too soon. I just am so grateful that I have seven years until the 50th anniversary, and I suppose my legacy will be tied to what that 50th anniversary looks like.

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Written by Kara Mason

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Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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