Arizona Artbeat: New Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Interim Director

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Dr. Sara Cochran has been appointed as the interim director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. She was previously assistant director, and will start her new job May 18. Cochran will tell us about her plans for the museum.

TED SIMONS: In tonight's edition of Arizona Art beat, we meet the new leader of a well-known valley art museum. Sara Cochran has been appointed as interim director of the Scottsdale museum of contemporary art and joining us now is Sara Cochran.

TED SIMONS: What is the Scottsdale museum of contemporary art? I think a lot of folks know of it, maybe some haven't been there. What is it?

SARA COCHRAN: It's a laboratory. So what we do at Scottsdale is we take the issues that we feel are important to a community and we work with them. We like to think of ourselves as a platform for the discovery of contemporary art and a great place to start a conversation.

TED SIMONS: Okay. So we've got the Scottsdale museum of contemporary art, the Scottsdale center for the arts, we have Scottsdale public art, as well. What are the differences?

SARA COCHRAN: Well, we're all sister institutions so the Scottsdale cultural council runs basically the three entities which deal with the performing arts, public art to beautify our city and also SMOCA, which of course is near and dear to my heart.


TED SIMONS: Yes SMOCA is of course, the museum of contemporary art. Your visions for the museum. You're replacing someone who left quite an imprint here. Regardless of why he left and what the situation were all about, it's you now, what are your visions?

SARA COCHRAN: Well, first of all, I would like to say one of the things that Tim really brought in was I think a greater sensitivity to the audience. He started SMOCA lounge which allowed for a spoken word series, a greater integration of different types of arts. Those are certainly things that I would like to continue. I think also just dealing with the exhibitions as a whole, bringing in a new type of dialogue, and also just welcoming the community to what is an unbelievably exciting part of life today.

TED SIMONS: And I want to get back to that, to more of that in a second but we did mention the Scottsdale center for the arts, and Scottsdale public arts all overseen by the council. There has been some restructuring going on, there has been a lot of concern in the arts community over this reconstructing. They're thinking you guys are streamlining, jobs could be lost, and accreditation could be threatened. What's going on over there?

SARA COCHRAN: Change and change is always hard so I think that we have an exciting new moment with the new leader and we are in the process of change. Hopefully, a butterfly will be born of the new three entities, perhaps three butterflies.

TED SIMONS: The people that are concerned with the change, how do you respond?

SARA COCHRAN: I'm very grateful, very grateful that people care enough to be concerned about this. It is a very, very interesting moment. We have a lot of comings and goings and we're going to be working to produce I believe the best exhibitions we can, the best programming we can and to continue to live up to the love and the respect that the community has shown for us. Including this concern and I don't take the concern lightly. I'm very grateful that people care about us as much as they do.

TED SIMONS: They certainly do and one last point on this, you've been named the interim director. But why aren't you the permanent director? People look at that and they go oh boy, there's instability going on.

SARA COCHRAN: Well, I think that, you know -- I am a younger professional than Tim Rogers was when he took up this part of the career, and I agree that there is a way that I do have to prove myself. So I think six months as interim chair, interim director is a very prudent way of moving forward.

TED SIMONS: Now, you're interim director and curator.

SARA COCHRAN: Yes, I am.

TED SIMONS: So how do you balance those two jobs?

SARA COCHRAN: I probably won't sleep for the next six months. No, there's just a lot going on, a lot of exhibitions and those are the really exciting things, working with the artist is the real perk of the job.

TED SIMONS: But I would think, though, as director, you have to do things like the SMOCA lounge, certain events that are outside, separate and apart from an actual exhibit, don't you?

SARA COCHRAN: Oh, yes, of course, but I think in contemporary museum, we don't see those necessarily as two divided things. I think what we see is that we're building an audience and that audience in the age of social media demands more and so that's what we're going to be working on. In the exhibitions but also all the programming around the exhibitions to engage that audience and also thinking of new ways to engage that audience. As I said, at SMOCA we think of ourselves as a laboratory so we're very excited to be in that position of experimentation and we hope that the audience will follow us.

TED SIMONS: Is there a -- how has the art experience changed in this age of the Internet and this age of instant this and graphics that and visuals on your cell phone for goodness sake. How has it change?

SARA COCHRAN: I think it's changed tremendously and changed for the better. Contemporary art in the past, because all art at one point was contemporary, it has always lagged behind getting information out. With the Internet, with social media, you can discover why artists are doing certain things almost immediately. And that is a tremendous asset. That means that anybody can go and see the work of an artist, and then they can turn around and discover what that artist is doing and why they're doing it. And then decide if they like it or not. When I teach, I like to say you don't need to like all of contemporary art but you do need to meet the artist halfway and understand it. If you understand it but you don't like it, that's okay, it's called taste. But if you don't understand why an artist is doing a certain thing, I don't really understand why people get quite so upset.

TED SIMONS: Well, you know it's interesting you bring that up because Scottsdale is known for western art, the west most western town, but critics of western art say its 40,000 painters painting the same horse. When they come to modern art, they'll see squiggly lines, something that doesn't make any sense. How do you want them to approach something that they don't even consider art?

SARA COCHRAN: Well, I would say five years ago, how many people had a tablet or how many people knew what to do with their mobile phones? It's merely a vocabulary and the more you look at it, the more you engage with the artist, the more you understand. And so it really is just -- it's a wonderful, exciting dialogue about our time and artists are remarkable in picking up things about our time that we don't see until much, much later. And so if you're interested in our time and the time we're living in, you have a natural "in" with the artist, to see performance, to see video art, to see all different kinds of expressions, we are on to art of social practice, which we don't have time for, it's a really exciting evolving and wonderful world to be involved in.

TED SIMONS: And so you will -- I guess your job is when I go to the art museum and there's something that I don't understand or I don't know how to appreciate, let's put it that way, it's your job to help me appreciate it?

SARA COCHRAN: Oh, yes, of course. And that's why we have didactics, full bodies of volunteers who are there to give tours, the curators give tours, I give tours. We are an educational institution at heart. It's just that we have this very specific entity to educate about.

TED SIMONS: Yeah and you come from the Phoenix art museum. You were there for a while?

SARA COCHRAN: I was indeed.

TED SIMONS: Compare those two museums.

SARA COCHRAN: Well, his is the first time in my career that I've worked in a museum that is solely focused on contemporary art, and it's nice not to have the discussions of is it art? The Phoenix art museum is a remarkable institution and I am unbelievably excited about the new direction it will take. I think we're going to see a real flourishing over there and I'm so happy for my colleagues there and I'm happy for our community.

TED SIMONS: And that is free decor, extends to the museum and all those entities under the cultural council. For those who are still worried about what's happening over there, how do you -- what do you say to them?

SARA COCHRAN: We have an opening on June the 5th, and it's from 7:00 until 10:00 and we would love everyone to come down and see our new summer shows. I think everybody will be delighted with them. And I would say it's a wonderful way to discover community and also to discover the museum. So the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Come down and enjoy the museum with us.

TED SIMONS: Congratulations on your position there at the museum. Thank you so much for joining us.

SARA COCHRAN: Such an enormous pleasure. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Thank you.

Dr. Sara Cochran :Interim Director of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

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