Arts & Culture
Blue Star Report: Can a new director save the museum?
Published: March 5, 2014
On Monday afternoon, on her first day on the job, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum’s new executive director, Mary Heathcott, responded thoughtfully to my barrage of pointed questions. She was well aware of the challenges facing the place (which I’ll get to in a moment), but was most diplomatic, which is wise.
Back in 2011, in the chaotic days just after the ouster of Artpace’s then-director Matthew Drutt, she struck me as similarly circumspect. From a mysanantonio.com blog post by Steve Bennett, the week of the upheaval: “Asked if the development was unexpected or a long time coming, interim managing director Mary Heathcott said, ‘I’m going to decline to comment on that.’”
During her tenure there, Heathcott had to contend with one of the most turbulent periods in Artpace history. She not only had to tamp down the Drutt drama, but also weather the sudden resignation by subsequent Executive Director Regine Basha due to a medical condition just a few months later and a handover in leadership at the Linda Pace Foundation, the primary organization that funds Artpace, from Steven Evans to Maura Reilly. That’s a lot of regime change in three years. On the operational side, the International Artist-in-Residence program, with the countless variables involved in its changing artist roster and simultaneous in situ projects, continued, as did the community potlucks and public openings. Chalk It Up expanded. Artpace got a sizable NEA grant in 2012.
It’s a vast oversimplification to state that Heathcott was the only glue holding this vast enterprise together; Artpace pillars such as studio director Riley Robinson and savvy board member Travis Capps were on hand. But you can insert the old chestnut here about windblown sails, choppy seas and steady sailing—with Heathcott at the helm.
In our interview, Heathcott credited the work of predecessors Executive Director Bill FitzGibbons and Consulting Manager Steven Evans, and spoke enthusiastically about the board of directors with whom she’ll be working. Importantly, she relied on few platitudes about art in the community and demonstrated a surprising amount of nitty-gritty. When asked about Blue Star’s educational mission, she answered as half-idealist and half policy-wonk. “MOSAIC could benefit from more exposure for what they’re doing, and should be better-integrated into [Blue Star]’s overall program,” she said, citing the art education’s graduation percentage and founder/director Alex Rubio’s role as a mentor. “The numbers they’re posting [about what] the mentored students have gone on to do as artists are amazing; it’s the kind of hard metric you can communicate to funding organizations.”
Also on her long-term agenda for the Museum: a sustained effort to cultivate local collectorship, oversee a spate of hiring and strengthen community development both through “open collaboration and partnering with peer organizations,” and “an ongoing dialogue with the city.” She has even given creative thought to organize 25 years of potential archive material.