Get to Know: Amada Cruz

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We’ll talk to Amada Cruz, the new Phoenix Art Museum Director about her plans and vision for the museum.

JOSE CARDENAS: Thank you for joining us. There's a new director of the Phoenix Art Museum, Amada Cruz replaced James Ballinger who retired after 33 years as the director. Joining us now, as we get to know Amada Cruz, welcome to "Horizonte."

AMADA CRUZ: Thank you very much

JOSE CARDENAS: Welcome to Phoenix. You are joining us from San Antonio, and before that you came to this country from Cuba.

AMADA CRUZ: I did. I was born In Cuba and left when I was 9 months old. We went up to Chicago and then New York City and Washington, D.C., so we moved around a little bit with the family.

JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us about your career in the art world.

AMADA CRUZ: I started in museum work. I was an art history major at New York University and my first job was an intern, a free intern at the Guggenheim museum in New York. From there I was hired by the Hirshhorn Museum and I also worked in the Museum of Contemporary in Chicago. And then I switch to grant making for a little while. Then I worked for a foundation that was started by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations called United States Artists. So we gave grants to artist working across media. Museum work and grant making is really my background.

JOSE CARDENAS: What took you to San Antonio?

AMADA CRUZ: I was the executive director of a wonderful place called Art Pace. It was started by Linda Pace, of Pace Picante sauce, fame. And it was an artist residency program and an exhibition space. I was there for two years running it.

JOSE CARDENAS: The Phoenix Art Museum launched a national search looking for a person who could replace James Ballinger who had been here for 33 years. We know there were a lot of people they were looking at and that applied. They chose you. And by all accounts it's an excellent choice. But what was your reaction to being in the mix?

AMADA CRUZ: It was a very interesting opportunity for me. I loved the fact that Phoenix was a growing city, and in my mind it's a young city still. Having lived in Los Angeles for a while, I think of it as a sort of young Los Angeles. In all the good ways, that means. I was very interested that it was a Hispanic city, as well. It seemed like a good opportunity for me, being Hispanic and bilingual.

JOSE CARDENAS: The Phoenix Art Museum is, compared to the other places you have worked is probably in between -- in terms of size?

AMADA CRUZ: Probably in between. I've worked at bigger museums and certainly smaller exhibitions spaces. It really is in between.

JOSE CARDENAS: What's the particular attraction of Phoenix and the art museum?

AMADA CRUZ: I love general interest museums. We call museums like the Phoenix Art Museum which have art from different time periods. Historical collections, as well as, contemporary collections, general museums. And I love those museums because they really become community centers almost for a city. You can find something for everybody there. If you really like older colonial paintings, you can find them at the museum. Contemporary cutting edge art, you can find it there, too. It's the range of possible with entry points for an audience.

JOSE CARDENAS: You've been here now three months. What's your assessment of the state of the museum?

AMADA CRUZ: The museum is in very good shape. There are a lot of opportunities. One of the big initiatives that I have in mind is starting more outreach to the Hispanic population. So we are going to be putting together a local Latino task force to actually give a little advise to me as the outsider. And how we can integrate our self's more into the local Latino community.

JOSE CARDENAS: Did you have a similar initiative in San Antonio?

AMADA CRUZ: In San Antonio we were pretty integrated actually. That was something that happened naturally. San Antonio is a very integrated city, you could say. It was a little less challenging to have to do that actually. Here I think we have a little bit of work to do, but the opportunities are certainly there.

JOSE CARDENAS: Any concerns about coming to Phoenix? Our reputation as a state has taken some hits in recent years. Local people would feel it's not entirely fair, but the fact is there's a negative perception in some places about what it's like here.

AMADA CRUZ: I think the P.R. perhaps for the State of Arizona has been a little rough for the last couple of years, but I've found it to be an extremely welcoming place and also very accommodating to differences. I'm quite optimistic about everything here.

JOSE CARDENAS: What's your assessment of the Latino community here, in terms of your ability to enhance membership from the Latino community for the museum, people going to the exhibitions?

AMADA CRUZ: We're thinking about first starting a bilingual program, having Spanish language signage, tours, family programs, and we'll see how much deeper we can go. I really need to learn about the local Latino community before I get more specific. It's a 40% Hispanic population as you know obviously we would be remiss to not respond to that population.

JOSE CARDENAS: Over the years Jim and his staff have undertaken a number of measures to try and do exactly what you're talking about, including mounting some fairly significant exhibitions of Latin American art. The museum itself is known for its collection in that regard. Tell us about that.

AMADA CRUZ: It's very interesting. The Latin American collection is very strong at the museum. It actually goes back all the way back to Spanish colonial paintings and then to very contemporary paintings, as well. I think most people don't realize that it's a very rare thing. We're one of the few in the country that has a Latin American collection. When we say Latin American, we include Latino art within that. It's a more comprehensive view of what that means. I think that's certainly a wonderful resource for everybody in the city. We really want to be the museum of everybody here.

JOSE CARDENAS: I think the museum has an excellent reputation and Jim himself is very well regarded in the community. There were those who felt it kind of overlooked the local artistic community. Have you gotten any sense for that?

AMADA CRUZ: I have heard that, and that's something that we will be reaching out to the local artistic community. There's a lot of excitement at the museum for some of these new initiatives.

JOSE CARDENAS: Can you give us kind of a preview of some of the kinds of things you envision doing in this area?

AMADA CRUZ: We will have a wonderful group show opening up may 9th of six contemporary Latino and Latin American artists. The signage will be bilingual, that's really just the start. We'll have other big sort of initiatives in terms of family programming and things. It's really the beginning of this. But I'm very excited about this. We've gotten a really wonderful response from the community, as well.

JOSE CARDENAS: What about the museum's financial condition?

AMADA CRUZ: The museum is in good financial condition actually. We have an endowment, we could be bigger. We're a relatively new city, so we certainly are planning to grow that. The recent fund-raising has been very strong, we're very happy about that.

JOSE CARDENAS: What about the challenges facing the traditional cultural icons, symphony, opera, just in terms of declining viewership and declining funding, problems that have been experienced all over the country? Your thoughts generally on that and how they might relate to Phoenix.

AMADA CRUZ: It's a very interesting moment for cultural organizations. People are actually participating, younger people are participating in culture in very different ways. For instance in museums, they were normally repositories for wonderful objects. You would walk into the galleries and look and it would be a fairly passive experience. Younger audiences want much more of a sorted expanded integration into their lives with any kind of cultural organization. They want a more active engagement, as well. We've had a few wonderful experiments lately. We have an Andy Warhol exhibition up now, you can have a film of yourself made. Once you make this film it goes directly into your phone. That has been so popular. We've had lines of kids waiting to do these sort of extended selfies, if you will. We're looking at different ways to expand the experience for younger audiences. That doesn't matter whether you're Anglo or Hispanic. The young audience has a different expectation of what culture should be.

JOSE CARDENAS: What about the local art, you've probably heard of First Fridays and the number of people who come downtown and walk the streets and the galleries and so forth. How does the museum relate to that crowd?

AMADA CRUZ: The first Friday has been such an incredible thing for me to watch. We had a first Friday during the Andy Warhol exhibition, and we had a record number of people in the museum that night. We had 5500 people. I was there for the whole thing and I can tell you it was diversity in every possible way, families, single people. There were lots of local arts organizations that had been invited to do presentations. We had activities all around the museum. We had singers, dance troupes, vintage clothing people with models showing sort of 1960s Andy Warhol clothing. That was really a wake-up call for all of us that we really need to activate the museum space in order to attract new audiences.

JOSE CARDENAS: Amada Cruz, sounds like you're off to a terrific start. Thanks for joining us on Horizonte we wish you the best.

AMADA CRUZ: Thank you so much for having me.

Amada Cruz:Director, Phoenix Art Museum Director;

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