Can you introduce Ruby City to those of us who might not be familiar with it?
Ruby City is a visual arts center that is rooted in the legacy of our founder, Linda Pace. Our campus includes Ruby City, the incredible new building by Sir David Adjaye OBE in which we show works from the Linda Pace Foundation Collection and attached to that is a sculpture garden. But, the campus also includes Studio, a smaller arts venue for shorter term exhibitions, located in Chris Park, a beautifully landscaped park featuring yet more visual experiences. It’s a multifaceted institution that is fundamentally based on Pace’s belief that contemporary art is not only stimulating and necessary for a vibrant society, but is for everyone. Consequently, all our events, programs and sites are free and open to the public. In the day to day, we act as a conduit, connecting people, our communities with significant contemporary art, not only from our San Antonio and Texas region, but also from artists practicing internationally. We take that mandate seriously.
How have the major world events of the past few months changed your thinking about Ruby City’s collections and its possibilities for engagement with the public?
Everything and nothing if that makes sense! I’m in a new position but also contending, as is everyone, with a whole new world where COVID-19 has transformed our everyday and at a moment when our field is confronting its history of inequity. Our founder embodied progressive ideals of representation and inclusion and so I relish carrying on that tradition. It’s very easy to be consumed by the intricacies of work because it’s new, exciting and demanding… That means I dive deep into Ruby City concerns but then I need to divorce myself from the day to day every once in a while in order to recalibrate, to gain a sense of personal balance.
But to answer your question, since we remain closed to the public, we have been working on how to be useful and helpful to our audiences and our communities, especially artists, through online programming or creating outdoor socially-distanced events. I always try to approach my work with a sense of experimentation. We are a nimble institution so we try things out and see if they work. If it works that’s great and if not, that’s ok, we learned something from the experience and can use that information to inform future decisions.
We put many of our efforts into our bi-weekly newsletter which includes interviews with folks in the art world, discussions about works in the collection, tutorials for individuals of every age, and videos related to different aspects of the collection, campus, or our history, and reading/watching lists. We’ve also begun to partner with different community groups on events and ongoing series. Recently, we co-hosted, with Blue Star Contemporary, a film screening and panel discussion with artist Lara Schnitger and choreographer Kitty McNamee related to their collaborative film Burden Halved. We’ve also developed with the Carver Community Center, a studio visit series with artists. This partnership came out of conversations with peers and artists related to what artists needed/wanted. It turns out a platform to share their work remained a concern. We’re also working on partnerships related to our social media outlets with museums across the country, as well as partnering with a broad range of artists.
The other things I think about are related to the future and how we, as an institution, can be prepared for the reality of our collective situation come next year. That means continuing to think creatively and collaboratively but also with a keen sense of our mission. It’s so easy for me to create more programs and exhibitions because I love doing that creative work, but my goal is to slow both myself and everyone else down so that we do fewer things that result in the highest quality. We have to be particular and make very hard choices about where and how we will expend our energies and that will inevitably mean turning down worthy opportunities from time to time.
Will you share with us a few things that are exciting to you right now?
Internally, we’re working on putting more works of art from the collection into our online database, digitizing our archive, and capturing demographic information on artists in the collection. (These are all responsibilities currently executed by some of our Visitor Services Associates who have ably transitioned to helping us in other institutional endeavors.) These incredibly important projects help us to better understand what’s in our collection and what may or may not be missing. But, even more importantly, I want to make sure we are truly representing our communities. Part of the appeal of Ruby City for me was the collection. As you may already know, Pace was ahead of her time, she collected terrific art that she loved, and many of those artists were from underrepresented groups. We maintain that vision in our collecting and at the very beginning of COVID, in March of this year, the Board and myself made a unanimous decision to designate our acquisition funds solely to BIPOC artists from the local to the national in order to help support them at this moment of economic hardship.
And more personally, I’m excited to be back in Texas. Almost all of me and my husband’s family are here and I love that we can see them whenever we want. Plus, don’t you know Texas has one of the largest, if not the largest concentration of Williams folks working in the arts?! It’s good to be with more Williams colleagues. My other personal interest at this moment is a little passé–Instagram. I know, I’m about 10 years behind everyone else, but before Ruby City I had zero interest in Instagram. Because of the staff at Ruby City I’ve come to appreciate this tool for reaching people and for the personal pleasure that comes from looking at images and works of art, especially since I can’t easily see art in person.
Do you have any big plans for Ruby City that you can share?
I’m happy to report that while we’ve been closed two large-scale installations have been put in place. We installed several hundred of Margarita Cabrera’s copper butterflies which were made through a series of community meetings spearheaded by the artist. Although there is a “pattern” to the butterfly that participants followed, each one is completely unique. They were installed as though in a migration and swarming in our stairwell. San Antonio is located in the path of the monarch butterfly migration which eventually leads them to Mexico. The installation is spectacular, relating to our city and its geographic situation but it is also a powerful metaphor for migration, a topic which is particularly relevant at this moment.
The other is a film by Isaac Julien, Western Union Small Boats. We have the largest collection of Julien’s work in the world and are proud to exhibit his multichannel works in the most optimal manner with appropriate numbers of screens, equipment and furnishings. This film takes as its subject matter immigration, poetically revealing the trauma and wide-reaching effects prohibitive or punitive policies can affect on the individual, society and even the built environment.
These installations continue to reveal so much about our present political moment and humanity. I’m excited to share them with everyone.