Executive Director of the Arts Council of Princeton since 2005, this native Californian has been passionate about the arts from an early age. After a brief detour in pre-med, he was on his way.
How did the arts influence your early life?
I grew up in Hawthorne, a suburb of L.A. known for two things: The Beach Boys, who went to my high school, and the home of Mattel Toys. I was always interested in art. I drew and painted, and I also studied piano. I played trumpet and French horn in the school orchestra. I got a guitar for my 12th birthday, and I have been playing ever since – blues, rock and jazz. I was in a band. Im still in a band. Recently, Ive been sitting in with Minister Carters gospel group, and I also have my own trio. I studied art and music in high school. When I went to UCLA, I started out pre-med because I thought my parents wanted me to be a doctor. But I soon changed my major to art, with a minor in music. Then at UC Santa Cruz, I continued my studies of art and music.
Did you go into the arts right out of school?
I did. I tried L.A., but it was not where I wanted to be. A good friend from college was in San Francisco, and I moved there and got a job in an art gallery and frame shop. I lived there for 22 years. I tried to establish a career as a visual artist, and I had some shows. But it was a struggle. I had my own contemporary art gallery in downtown San Francisco for three years. I paid the rent by playing guitar; I was a professional session player, played in bands, and was music director for a theater company. That sort of combined experience led me to arts management, because trying to make it as an artist or musician is very difficult. I had a succession of gallery directorships starting in the mid-80s. Then in 1991, I was hired as director of the Richmond Arts Center in the East Bay, an important contemporary arts center and the oldest in northern California. I stayed there for 10 years.
Why did you move to the east coast?
In 2000, I was offered the position of director of the International Sculpture Center at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. I picked up my family and moved to Princeton Junction. It was a tumultuous time for the sculpture center, and I stayed three years. By the fall of 2003, my contract was up. I became the art project consultant for the Princeton Public Librarys new building, and then worked on two really amazing projects at the Princeton University Art Museum: the Magdalena Abakanowicz and Sol LeWitt installations. I applied for the job here at the Arts Council and was hired as executive director in 2005.
How do you see the role of the Arts Council?
Our reason to exist is to connect the public with art, and to make art accessible for everyone. We also try to improve the working environment for artists, because its a challenge to be a working artist in Princeton. This actually is a fertile area for writers and musicians, but its a bit more challenging for visual artists. The heart of our program is arts education. We serve about 1,200 regular students a year, all ages, in a range of classes. But were multidisciplinary. Its not just about visual arts, but also about music, dance, theater, film. Were looking right now at developing our performing arts programs. We want to fill the gaps. Were looking for the kinds of things where there currently isnt a lot of opportunity. We want to expand our dance program, and offer more ethnic dance. We now have a resident theater group, the JW Actors Studio, which is great for teens and adults. They are forming a teen improv group, which is really exciting. Who else in this area is doing improvisational theater on a regular basis?
How important is collaboration with other local institutions?
Working with other groups is a really important part of what we do. We have partnered with the library, the Princeton University Art Museum, Jazz Nights, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Bravura Philharmonic, HiTOPS, Corner House, the Historical Society, the Senior Center, and other organizations, and we are always looking for new collaborative opportunities for artists and the public. Weve been so focused on our facility here, but we would like to be able to have more of an impact on places like Artworks in Trenton, to help them deliver programming to the Trenton community.
How do you feel about recent statements by Republican politicians about abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?
Its very short-sighted to think you can de-fund these organizations and save the government money. Youd be reducing the amount of tax revenues. People would lose their jobs. The arts represent one of the largest industries in this country. The conservative attack on the arts right now is being framed as a budgetary discussion; in the past it was a moral discussion. I firmly believe that the NEA is the way this country has put into use the concept of freedom of speech and expression. By funding these organizations, were ensuring that creative people are creating new ideas about issues that matter. They are making art that provokes discussion. These are things that make our society progress. I feel good that my tax dollars are going to support freedom of expression and to support the positive economic impact of the arts. Every period of human history is defined by its creative work. Everything is designed clothes, cars, furniture, media and Internet content, everything.