Women Helm Local Arts Institutions

By Lavender April 24, 2008

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The Twin Cities rivals Chicago as the Midwest’s cultural Mecca, which our great arts institutions have been pivotal in fostering. They bring scope and breadth to human experience, creating tolerance and understanding that pave way to insight. Their populist nature means a broad swath is exposed to various art forms—not just through performances and exhibits, but also through educational outreach.

Minnesota’s GLBT community, traditionally at odds with the “artphobic” (remember former Senator Jesse Helms?), lives more easily because these institutions open the minds and hearts of those whose lives they touch.

Three of our top arts organizations have new leaders: Kaywin Feldman at Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Patricia Mitchell at Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, and Olga Viso at Walker Art Center—remarkable women, all. Each has exciting visions and insights that she generously has shared with Lavender.

Kaywin Feldman. Photo Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Kaywin Feldman
Director and President,
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The venerable Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) finally has its first woman Director and President. Kaywin Feldman hails from the Memphis Brooks Museum in Tennessee, where she combined traditional tastes with pop exhibits like Elvis is in the Building. This ability to balance these scales is crucial for the institute, the most broad-scoped art museum between Chicago and the West Coast.

According to Feldman, “The quality of this renowned collection sets the bar for every other aspect of the museum’s programs and operations. I know that the future direction of the museum will be guided by our desire to expose an even greater number of people from our diverse community to our quality exhibitions, collection, and programs.”

Feldman, who understands the museum’s responsibility to our cosmopolitan community at large, sees it as “the premier arts educator in the Upper Midwest, and our primary mission is to offer a comprehensive survey of world art that represents so many diverse cultures across the millennia. As our world becomes increasingly global, it is of utmost importance that we show the dynamic similarities and stimulating differences found across world cultures.”

Starting her tenure in January, Feldman succeeded William M. Griswold, who made great strides in balancing the Western classical with other traditions.

Patricia Mitchell. Photo Courtesy of Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

Patricia Mitchell
President and Ceo,
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

After Patricia Mitchell served as the Guthrie Theater’s Director of Community Services in the 1970s, she returned to her native California, ultimately serving as Executive Director of both the San Francisco Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, where she also oversaw operations at the fabled Hollywood Bowl.

Thrilled to be back in the Twin Cities as President and CEO of St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Mitchell brings a vivid perspective, having known this area in the sleepier ’70s, compared to the cosmopolitanism that has taken root in the decades since.

Mitchell says, “Two of the things that really appealed to me about the Ordway position is that I like puzzles, and it’s a complicated puzzle, with all the residential partners and their needs and ambitions—and the Ordway’s own needs and ambitions from a programmatic point of view. And the other thing that I was really drawn to was the strengths of the education and community programs. So, of course, we’d like to expand those.”

As Mitchell reflects, “When I left the Twin Cities in the late ’70s, I don’t know what the percentage was in terms of non-Caucasian residents of the metro area, but it sure wasn’t very high. It’s still not high compared to LA, but it’s much more diverse than it was. That makes for a much more interesting community. And artistically it is so much more interesting.”

In order to address the needs of those at risk of exclusion, Mitchell emphasizes, “We have to find ways to make welcome points of entry, and sometimes, that has to do with the diversity of the artists who are represented on stage. If you’re a Hmong kid or a Somali kid, and you never see an artist onstage who looks like you, then you start to think, ‘Well that’s not about me or for me.’ So, I want to enhance diversity in every aspect of the operation, and we can do it in this combination of programs for our school kids and presenting those same programs to the public. If we keep working away at that, change will come.”

Mitchell succeeded Jeff Bakken as Ordway President and CEO last August. She continues his fine work in balancing the diverse with the mainstream.

Olga Viso. Photo by Cameron Wittig

Olga Viso
Director, Walker Art Center

Olga Viso is the new Director of Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, the nation’s great contemporary art museum between the coasts. Before relocating here, she was Director of the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. While there, she nurtured contemporary international art produced in all media. She also exposed the public to lesser-known artists who would have slipped under the radar.

An expert on Latino art, Viso understands the interplay of various art forms beyond just painting and sculpture. Her work at Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden is wonderful grounding for developing the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on the Walker campus.

Viso views the Walker as a “vital and dynamic multidisciplinary arts center with broad-based programming in the visual arts and performing arts, film, and media. And I’m really interested in continuing to take that much further, and continue to put artists at the center, and to create opportunities for artists, and create new work and evolve their production. That is one of the things that really distinguishes the Walker from so many institutions. One of the reasons why it was so appealing to me to come here was that the Walker is this multidisciplinary arts center.

As Viso relates, “The Hirshhorn is a visual arts museum. When we did performing arts, and when we did music, we often had to partner with other organizations, which is certainly effective. But different institutions have different cultures and missions and financial considerations, so it’s harder to partner with someone outside your house. But the fact that the Walker has under its own roof and in its own house all these different disciplines makes it a tremendous platform to invite artists to work across the disciplines. I’m very interested in building on that—to invite artists to specifically work across the fields. The way art is being produced today, artists work in very multidisciplinary modes.”

Viso began at the Walker in January. She succeeded Kathy Halbreich, who brought the Walker and Minneapolis into heightened consciousness about new streams in art. Like Halbreich, Viso is quite cognizant of the importance of GLBT energies in contemporary art.

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