The Cognoscente Next Door
Every great city deserves great art,” Amada Cruz says. And the Sybil Harrington Director of the Phoenix Art Museum is happy to report that Phoenix does have great art.
“Getting people to come see that art has been her task since assuming the directorial reins from retiring director Jim Ballinger in 2015.
“My main focus has really been to open up the museum as much as possible, to make it as accessible as possible, to as many people as possible,” Cruz says. “It’s a balancing act, because you want to make sure you’re showing the best quality art, of course, but you also want to make sure that you’re making it a place that is more active than what a traditional museum has been in the past. How do you balance connoisseurship in something that’s very specialized with complete accessibility to the largest possible audience?”
The short answer: strategic partnerships, high-low collaborations and experiences. Through a grant from Discount Tire, PAM was able to institute Discount Tire Free Family Sunday – one Sunday a month with free admission for all. “We went from having an average of 200 people on a Sunday to 3,500 people the first time that we did this,” Cruz says. It has been so successful that PAM expanded it to a free weekend each month, along with First Friday offerings.
Collaborative events with local artists and arts organizations including The Phoenix Symphony and independent press Four Chambers have expanded the museum’s programming and reach. Diverse exhibitions like Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection and an upcoming interactive exhibition from Brazilian-American artist Valeska Soares live “within our sweet spot,” Cruz says, “which is that the art is very high quality, but also it is very approachable.”
Last fall’s Kehinde Wiley exhibition featuring massive portraits of black culture drew the museum’s most diverse crowd to date and broke PAM’s attendance record for a First Friday opening: 7,000 people in one night. Total attendance that weekend hit 10,000.
“The most fun for me is when I walk through the galleries and they’re packed. I like it when it’s loud in the museum,” Cruz says. “If people complain about the noise, I say, ‘That is the sound of life.’ We all need to embrace that.”
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