Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Visit with Our New DAI Executive Director Christina Woods

After a stint as interim director for the Duluth Art Institute this past summer, Christina Woods was officially designated Executive Director this past month. Her career experience includes teaching at St. Scholastica, public speaking, grant writing and in her most recent role Executive Director at the Damiano Center. She also has extensive board experience including serving on the Board of Directors of PAVSA and the Duluth League of Women Voters. She is also currently the Education Director for the PBS program “Native Report.”

Our paths first crossed in 2012 as a result of a mutual interest in the Steampunk activity that emerged here in the Twin Ports. The Duluth Art Institute hosted Steampunk-themed events in both 2012 and 2013 that included a Steampunk Art Show and Emporium and attracted a large swath of the community while generating much enthusiastic participation.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in the arts?

Christina Woods: The arts have been central to my life. As an Anshinaabikwe, I was around the visual arts early as a tool to learn our cultural stories, medicines, and traditions. My first experience with contemporary visual arts was with my brother. I was about ten. He took me on a picnic at the MIA and talked to me about art. I especially recall after viewing the MIA exhibitions how vulnerable art seemed. I also realized how incredibly smart it was to use the visual arts as a language to understand what we have come through and how we have come through our lives to know who we are. As an adult, the language of visual art was easy to incorporate into my teaching. It was most effective in teaching little ones about conflict resolution, listening, and respecting other’s perspectives.

EN: What are some of the responsibilities of the Executive Director?

CW: My primary duty is to be the best team member possible! The expertise in all areas of operation at the DAI is deep. The entire team, staff to board members, is dynamic, responsive and, yes, a lot of fun! My responsibilities beyond that are essentially running the business. I keep track of income, expenses, new endeavors, contracts, personnel, and board governance. The usual non-profit stuff. My experience in education, non-profit management, grants, business ownership, contracting, event planning, fundraising, and networking line up beautifully in this role.

EN: What makes the Duluth Art Institute important in our community?

CW: The DAI is the only organization providing wrap around services for artists. Those services include workshops on writing, exhibitions and creative practice. We are working to expand our services to artists by providing open office times, more robust residencies, and strong networking opportunities with artists regionally, statewide and nationally. We hope to have a meaningful role in connecting artists to opportunities in non-profits, commercial and community work such as teaching. The DAI is also reaching into the community deeper and outreaching to individuals who have important stories to tell and are creating art about it. These stories may be about homelessness, poverty, incarceration, race, or privilege. The DAI encourages me to incorporate my passion to reach underrepresented groups into visual arts experience for all. This is my vision for “Bridging Art and Everyday Life”

Artists are activists and activists are citizens and citizens are humans. Humans make change. The visual arts play a vital role in the navigating day-to-day experiences, connecting community, and bridging the human experience. Artists are interconnected to society and create opportunities for viewers to grapple with contemporary social issues, be a generator of culture, and learn how culture informs us.

Artists are cultural archivists. Whether it be archiving history, grief, time, specific events or the creative the process, artists become the entrepreneurs moving fluidly across commercial, non-profit and community archiving memories with their visual descriptions.

The DAI provides opportunities for artists, creative learners, and viewers to connect in ways that help the people in our community thrive. The integral role the DAI plays in the community is through providing space for art, voice, and learning.

EN: Is there a relationship between the DAI and the Duluth Public Arts Commission? 

CW: Yes, we use the commission’s Duluth Arts + Culture Plan to inform us about the interests of our community. We hope to hold a seat at this table.

EN: A lot of people do not realize that the Morrison Gallery is named after a well-known Native American artist, George Morrison. Would you say that the DAI's connections to the Native culture is one of its unique features?

CW: George Morrison is part of my Anishinaabe lineage. I have been informed by George’s work for decades and have known Duluth in relation to his visual art contributions. His work, along with Joe Geshik, deeply speak to me.

The gallery named for George Morrison is a strong testament to how the DAI recognizes the vital importance of the visual arts as everyday life. This ideal is evidenced in the art of the Anishinaabe. I think what makes the DAI most unique is the 110 year commitment to serve the community as an arts center bridging art and life through classes, workshops, exhibitions, professional development, and studio spaces for painters, photographers, ceramic artists, and fiber artists. With so many ways to use the DAI and like the tradition of belonging stemming from the Anishinaabe, we hope each person, in and around the region, gets here to experience the Duluth Art Institute!

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Thursday evening is the Opening Reception for the 2018 Member Show at the DAI, 5 - 7 p.m. in the Great Hall at the Depot. The art will be on view thru February 23. Join other friends of the arts and see what's been happening in studios around the Northland this past year. Never been? Then you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's always a highlight of the season.

Meantime art goes on all around you. Get into it.

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