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Phoenix Metro Art Institutions

Poised For Change

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Ally Haynes-Hamblen interim director for Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Amada Cruz, director at the Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art Museum
1625 North Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
7374 E. Second St.
Scottsdale, AZ

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
7380 E. Second St.
Scottsdale, AZ

Three Of The Most Well-Known And Renowned Art Institutions Have New Leadership With Designs On Bringing The Arts To Modern Audiences


By Joey Hancock
Modern Times Magazine

July 6, 2015 — The Phoenix Art Museum, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Scottsdale Center for Performing arts recently hired new directors and each has their own unique vision to where their organization’s are heading.

The landscape of museums and cultural centers has been growing over the past few years with younger and older generations flocking to these institutions for their unique events and cultural performances.

With new directors these three organizations are now looking at how to create more events and a lasting identity for art in the Valley.

Phoenix Art Museum
Cuban-born Amada Cruz came to the Phoenix Art Museum earlier this year after being contacted by a search firm looking for a director of the museum. Positive past experiences at the museum prodded Cruz to take the position.

“I knew of the museum because I had been here a few years ago to give a presentation and was very impressed by the building, the collection and I like the southwest,” Cruz said. “When I came to interview I was very impressed by the board and that is why I decided to come here.”

Cruz has been at PAM now for four months and said she is beginning to think of how to activate more of the museum’s space and focus on events.

"I tend to think about audiences, and museum audiences have really changed,” she said. “Everyone wants to figure out how to engage new audiences, especially younger people, who engage with culture in a very different way. Instead of museums just being what they have been historically, which is these perfect receptacles for works of art and people would come in and passively look at them, now younger people, in particular, expect different ways of engaging with everything.”

The community around the museum is important for the growth of the area’s museums and doing more for the audiences is of utmost importance, Cruz said.

”I’d like to do more for younger audiences,” she said. “One of the things I am looking into is starting some initiatives to attract more Latino audiences. We are looking at bilingual tours and signage and things like that.”

The growth of downtown Phoenix and the amount of students who move into the area each fall is helping with the growth of the museum and the amount of quality cultural centers in the area is beneficial for collaboration as well as making an artistic impact on the community.

“It is really wonderful in an area with so many great museums and it is also really great that we are downtown with the growth of downtown and all of the students coming in,” Cruz said. “One of the nicest things for me is having all of these colleagues around the area and creating opportunities for collaboration. There’s something really interesting about being somewhere that is still in formation that you can usually have a bigger impact.”

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Sara Cochran had been at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for four years before coming to Scottsdale as the new director of SMOCA.

“I had never, prior to coming to Scottsdale, worked in a contemporary-only institution and I was very interested and excited to do that,” Cochran said. “I had worked in the Guggenheim, which is late 19th century, so it is kind of modern and contemporary. I was interested in working in the contemporary only space.”

Using the museum as a platform for discussion is how Cochran sees the organization and this was shown during a recent event on covert operations.

“SMOCA is a laboratory and I think that is a very exciting path for SMOCA to be looking at,” Cochran said. “A laboratory for artists to come in and do projects but also a laboratory for us to think about contemporary ideas. We had some very thoughtful artists taking on an unbelievably difficult and complex subject but it led to some really great and respectful conversations and that was a fantastic thing to see.”

The Phoenix metro’s museums are continuing to grow with more and more people beginning to enjoy these institutions and Cochran said she believes the area’s museums are poised to get on to a national level of recognition.

“I’ve just come back from New York and had some colleagues say that SMOCA has come up a lot in conversations,” she said. “Yes, our museums could get to a national level but that takes money and support, so that means everyone in our region needs to realize that culture is a motor that drives tourism.”

The use of technology is of growing importance in museums and the landscape of how museums work is a two-way street, Cochran said. Visitors also need to meet the artists halfway in this aspect, she said.

“In order to do that, the computer is a great tool to see other works by artists or learn more about artists,” she said. “There is a place for technology within the museum and artists are invested in technology. Right now we have two artists who have a show titled “The Collaborationists,” and they are using Google software that basically shows how information is stored.”

The technological world and the world of art aren’t mutually exclusive and for continued growth of cultural centers technology needs to be embraced.

“I don’t see our worlds as mutually exclusive,” Cochran said. “I see all forms of cell phones, computers as tools that contemporary artists are using, so they have a home in the museum.”

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Ally Haynes-Hamblen was named interim director for Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts after being with the organization for 11 years and is looking forward to the challenges of being a new director.

“The planning for the next season and bringing in the best artists is important and having more events is a challenge,” Hamblen said. “Fortunately I was involved with programming the 2015-16 season and we have just been finishing up any loose strings we’ve had for our 40th anniversary season and have been able to confirm a few more artists we weren’t able to get into the preview piece.”

Artists coming the the center in the coming months include Martin Short, Margaret Cho, Lyle Lovett, Alan Cumming and Jane Lynch but attracting these big names and getting them on the schedule is sometimes a difficult task to undertake.

“For the big artists who like to route their tours, a big part of our consideration is the calendar and are we able to capture a date that works for both us and them,” she said. “We also have artists we seek out directly because we absolutely adore them and want them on our stage.”

The center also has several different series that are planned for each season with a variety of topics that has something for everyone.

“We do classical, world music, jazz, dance, theater, Broadway concerts, country and folk concerts, so each of those genres you have to go at in a different way and it is a challenge and is a juggling act for sure.” Humble said.

The Scottsdale Center for Performing arts has been on a growth trend recently, Hamblen said, and is hoping that trend continues.

“From my perspective I would say that we are definitely in a growth pattern right now,” she said. “In the art community in general I can see the audiences growing and I can see the number of performances everybody is offering is growing and that is a really good sign.”

This growth pattern is seen as a new awakening of the cultural scene of Phoenix and the surrounding areas and is an exciting thing to see, Hamblen said.

“Particularly being in the Phoenix market I’m so excited to see the arts organizations in both Scottsdale and throughout the Valley really experiencing a renaissance and emerging from a scary economic period.”

These three cultural centers and the new directors are positioned well for the future and with the audiences continued growth only bigger and better things can soon come to the Valley in the form of art, music and performances for the people to enjoy.

Joey Hancock is a freelance writer living in Arizona.
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