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Friday, December 4, 2015

Meet Katy Clark

Katy Clark, BAM’s new president, answered some questions posed by Robert Wood about issues small and large.

Photo: Jesse Winter
First of all, welcome to BAM. All moved in? Favorite neighborhood lunch spots picked? 

All moved in at BAM, and soon to be moved into a new home in Brooklyn with my family. As for lunch, favorites so far would be soup and sushi from The Greene Grape and noodles from National! I also love Romans, Walters, and Madiba, all on DeKalb.

What were the first things you hung or unpacked in your new office?

Pictures of my family and pieces from the BAM Visual Art collection, including a Richard Avedon photo of former BAM leader Harvey Lichtenstein and a piece by the brilliant Shinique Smith. I also couldn’t forget a paperweight my son gave me and some of his art work. Or my little figurines of the band Wilco—Jeff Tweedy et al.

Wilco notwithstanding, you’re a former violinist with the BBC Symphony. How has your experience as a performer influenced your philosophies on the executive side of things? 

Being a performer has given me a very acute sense of the pressures and challenges that artists feel on stage and during the rehearsal period. BAM is a home for artists as well as audiences, and I want them to have the best experiences here. I’ve also learned a lot about leadership from watching different conductors. The best allow their musicians to speak with their own artistic voices while still providing an inspirational and interpretative framework. That’s what I try to do. 

You applied that philosophy during your five years as president and executive director at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which you left earlier this year. What do you consider your biggest personal accomplishment during that time? 

My experience with the BBC Symphony made me think a lot about the ideal working environment for artists. While I was at OSL, I was able to lead the design and construction of the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, a beautiful rehearsal and recording space geared towards enabling musicians to do their best work. It’s an arts building top to toes, with spaces for orchestra rehearsals, private lessons, and more. It also shares space with another non-profit, the Baryshnikov Arts Center, so there’s always a creative buzz in the air. As a multi-use space dedicated solely to classical music, nothing like it existed in New York until it opened. I’m very proud of that. 

BAM has made its own additions lately, including the 250-seat BAM Fisher in 2012. More is on its way, with new movie theaters set to open across Ashland Place in 2018. What is it about a bigger BAM that makes for a better BAM? 

Given the precarious state of the performing arts in our culture, it is hard to imagine that there could be too much BAM or too much of any other cultural organization for that matter! BAM’s growth is art and culture’s growth. What’s important is that these things continue to expand their reach, regardless, in many ways, of who is enabling them to do so. Of course, we’re thrilled to be able to contribute. 

Speaking of growth, Fort Greene is going to see as many as 15,000 new residents in the near future. What’s something that a new resident could say upon entering BAM for the first time that would make you extremely happy? 

“Shakespeare and free R&B?!” Or “finally.” 

The performing arts can sometimes suffer from insularity: those who appreciate them and have the means to them are often those lucky enough to have had the chance to experience them at an early age. How do you break through that echo chamber in order to draw new, diverse audiences?

Regardless of our size, what we do won’t be valued by absolutely everyone. But it should still be accessible to anyone. We curate but are not just for connoisseurs. One way to ensure this is through our education and community programs, but we also do it by creating more inviting spaces. This is on my mind a lot at the moment as we think about renovations surrounding the BAM Harvey Theater, where we are making changes to improve the experiences of our audiences, and also in terms of the wonderful street-level public space that will be included elsewhere in the BAM Strong complex down the street. 

What’s the real value of experiencing “adventurous” art as an audience member? 

That these experiences never really leave you. You think about them over and over again, and they change you somehow. 

Maybe related to that, what’s one of the more underrated feelings that someone can have while experiencing an artwork on the stage? 

That’s such a great question! I would say fear. Also, the feeling of being completely overwhelmed. 

What has surprised you the most so far about BAM? 

The breadth of what we do. It’s a voyage of discovery! 

Guilty-pleasure music of the moment?

“Levitation” by Beach House. And “Kaput” and “Times Square” by Destroyer. My son introduced Destroyer to me after being introduced to them by my husband. He’s become a great listener.

Katy Clark is now on Twitter, where you can ask her your own questions: @KatyLClark

Robert Wood is Senior Copywriter at BAM.
Reprinted from Dec 2015 BAMbill.

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