Voices of the Arts, a series presented by NolaVie and WWNO radio, explores the thoughts and visions of eight new arts leaders in New Orleans. Through conversations we try to understand how they will engage with the arts and the artists in this already vibrant cultural community, about how they view us, what their goals are for their organizations, and what big plans are on their horizons.
Today, meet Kim Cook, newly appointed president of The Arts Council of New Orleans. A native of San Francisco and, most recently, a resident of Los Angeles, Kim holds a bachelor’s degree from California State University and a Master’s in the Arts and Consciousness from John F. Kennedy University. An early promoter of the creative economy theory, she has been in the forefront of progressive movements to integrate uses of electronic media, data and the arts. She is also credited with the opening of the West Coast for Hip-Hop Theater and Concert Dance.
Here’s what Kim Cook has to say …
On New Orleans cultural life: It’s very easy to observe and take joy in all that New Orleans has to offer culturally, architecturally, the great oak trees on Esplanade. These things are apparent and worth celebrating. If you look a little further, you also understand that Mid-City and New Orleans East and other parts of the community are not as resourced as they could be. So what are things to be tackled? What is the role of an arts council? The people here have a will to survive, a will to work, a will to collaborate. They also have a certain inclination to blame. So I think that that’s where some of us who are newcomers can work with those who are here: to re-imagine the future that’s as vibrant as the past.
On goals for the Arts Council: Once we have taken a look at this bigger picture, then I have to ask myself what is it that the Arts Council has done or is doing and what might we want to do to be even more impactful? In the area of the people, we want to provide the opportunity to express and to experience art. The traditional purview of the Arts Council has been in professional development and technical assistance. I think that’s great. I think that’s important; I also think that teaching people professional skills in a marketplace that doesn’t provide opportunity is only half of the equation. So it’s very important to me that the Arts Council look at potential international partners, to create exchange opportunities. There’s hardly a city in the world that wouldn’t be interested in art and artists from New Orleans.
On how to handle the financial challenges: I understand utility. I understand limited budgets. An economic argument makes sense – so many jobs; so many people went out to eat after a show. If we’re talking about an investment portfolio and we look at the arts organizations and their capital, are they doing what people in New Orleans do so well; the sort of MacGyver spirit of working with a bobby pin and a piece of string so we can make things happen?
It’s terrific, a pioneering spirit. But it’s not sustainable. So I look across New Orleans at the arts and arts service organizations, and I see a proliferation of good ideas without enough alignment and investment to create critical mass. In my imagination, the Arts Council actually begins to look at the arts community from the perspective that beyond economic impact is the idea of economic investment.
On big plans for the future: I have actually a very up-to-date understanding of new technology and the intersection in the arts. This is something I’d love to see us advance in New Orleans; access for artists to 3-D printers, laser cutters, to all the new tools of technology, even nano-technology that artists in other parts of the world are already beginning to use and work with.