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 Neil Barclay, Executive Director of the Contemporary Arts Center. A longtime resident of Los Angeles, Neil received his undergraduate and law degrees from Loyola Marymount University. Formerly a senior consultant with the Arts Consulting Group, the nation’s leading provider of hands-on interim management and executive searches, he has held positions as varied as Associate Director of the Performing Arts Center at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding President and CEO of the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh.
On New Orleans cultural life: I’ve spent a lot of time in Central America and South America and New Orleans feels very much like these parts of the world. I see New Orleans on the cusp of a sort of transformation and transcendence. For me a great city always centers around quality of life; how easy is it to make a living without driving yourself crazy; how rich is the cultural life you’re able to participate in; how many different kinds of people, different from yourself, do you encounter? I actually think great cities have great architecture as well. The architecture of New Orleans evolved literally over decades, centuries. It is quite sensual; quite beautiful.
On goals for the CAC: My goal would be when someone comes to New Orleans that they will say while they are here, “you know, I’ve got to go by and see that CAC. I hear they are doing great things.” On a practical level we want to become more financially stable and we want to make sure we are giving back in equal measure to what we’ve been given. Our relationship with the visual artists of the community is a significant one. You always dance with the people that brung you, as my mother likes to say, and in this case it’s the artists who created this institution some 37 years ago. An important part of our mission is making sure that the artists who live and work here are better off because we’re here. We also want to be a source of inspiration for those artists. A lot of artists are not wealthy; they can’t travel to see some of the great artists that they admire and would like to see. So an exhibition like Thirty Americans, for example, brings those artists here for them to see and look at those works and be inspired by those works. On the performance side, we have this incredible warehouse space. And I think we have to begin to think about how to maximize that space for performance.
On how to handle the financial challenges: You know it’s interesting; I guess I’ve never been that person who’s thought about what we don’t have. I really tend to concentrate on what we do have as an asset, whether that be financial or physical. The financial challenge in a city like New Orleans is that there aren’t a lot of contributed resources; not a lot of foundations. There are less individual donors with a history of being philanthropic. That’s an opportunity, meaning that there’s a whole generation of people that we want to excite about the notion of giving back to this community that they are calling home. At the CAC we have a huge opportunity around just getting people through the door to become members. That would be a great thing, right?
On big plans for the future: We still have the 4th floor and I think the way we are going to think about the 4th floor is, is there a way for us to maximize that floor solely for the purpose of generating revenue for the organization? There are a lot of different ways we could go with that. It could be movie rentals; it could be other things other than special events. I think our real issue with regard to revenue from special events is one of balance. What we want to always make sure that people see and understand about the CAC is that the work we do is around art and artists and contemporary culture. The Burtinsky exhibit that runs through January: that exhibit has been written up in the New York Times and the Huffington Post as one of the top 20 or 30 exhibitions to see this fall anywhere in the country. So that puts the art front and center. Should we happen to do a party during that time, that’s probably going to be secondary.