#49: Tariana Navas-Nieves
As Director of Cultural Affairs for Denver Arts & Venues, Tariana Navas-Nieves puts her background as a museum curator to work in a million different ways. As she notes in detail below, Navas-Nieves oversees every aspect of the city's cultural face, from its highly visible public art program to the details of how public funding is parsed among arts groups of every discipline. And every event you might attend at the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park bears her seal of approval. To her credit, she wields her power while balancing an artful vision and her sense of duty to the city and its constituents. And in her spare time, she's both a mom and a cosmopolitan fashionista. Learn more from her 100CC questionnaire, which follows.
If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
I would like the opportunity to work with political figures who throughout history have been strong and committed art patrons and have shown a clear understanding of the value of art and culture. Some that come to mind include Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Under President Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the government funded the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This was the first significant government patronage of the visual arts in the United States. It gave work to hundreds of artists and more than 100,000 murals, paintings, sculptures and graphic works were created. Under the direction of Holger Cahill, the Federal Art Project employed legendary artists like Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Jacob Lawrence and Stuart Davis. And did you know that the WPA funded the construction of Red Rocks Amphitheatre?
In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson led the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA was established as an independent federal agency to elevate and preserve the country's artistic traditions. To date, more than $5 billion has been awarded to support dance, literature, media arts, museums, visual arts, music, opera and theater. During its initial iteration, such artists as Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey benefited from this funding.
Finally, perhaps, Tim Gunn from the popular television show Project Runway; I consider him charming, stylish, and an intelligent and thoughtful mentor. We need more like him.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Author, historian and Director and Chief Curator of the Fashion Institute of Technology Valerie Steele. She brings an intellectual approach to fashion in a way that both legitimizes it and raises public awareness of the cultural and societal significance of fashion. I believe that fashion is a material reflection of identity and her work supports this. And who wouldn't be fascinated by a historical study of corsets, or exhibits titled Love & War: The Weaponized Woman and Gothic: Dark Glamour? Also a prolific writer, Steele has explored intriguing topics in a number of publications including Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power, Japan Fashion Now, Shoe Obsession, Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age,The Fan: Fashion and Femininity Unfolded and China Chic: East Meets West.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Esoteric and highly complicated exhibitions favored by many professionals in the field: such a turn-off! There is a misguided belief that the more flowery language you use, the smarter you sound. Art is about access, access to all, and the true challenge is to take a complex concept and break it down to simply stated ideas. Oh, and capri pants and bermuda-short suits need to go.
What's your day job?
I am the Director of Cultural Affairs for Denver Arts & Venues. This is the City and County of Denver agency responsible for the city's publicly owned venues and cultural affairs. The agency operates some of the region's most renowned facilities, including Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, the Denver Performing Arts Complex, Colorado Convention Center, Denver Coliseum and McNichols Civic Center Building.
As Director of Cultural Affairs I oversee the Denver Public Art program, Create Denver economic development initiative, the Arts Education Fund, SCFD Tier III granting process, the Youth One Book, One Denver literacy program, and entertainment and cultural events such as the Five Points Jazz Festival and Mayor's Awards for Excellence in Arts & Culture, as well as Imagine 2020: Denver's Cultural Plan initiatives, such as the P.S. You Are Here neighborhood revitalization program. I am also responsible for operations and programming at the McNichols Building. I have a dream job where every day brings new exciting projects, and I get to work with an immensely talented and fun team.
I am also a wife and mother to a seventeen-year-old young man and a thirteen-year-old (going on twenty) girl.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I would find an interesting and innovative way to support individual artists long term. What would be the 21st-century model of the Federal Art Project? Most importantly, though, I would invest in services that support the disabled community -- in particular, those in the autism spectrum. Autism affects one in 68 children. It is the fastest growing developmental disorder, yet the most underfunded. The key is that autism is treatable; it is not a hopeless condition, but early and intensive intervention is critical. This issue is close to my heart.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
I can't mention just one. What we as a community can do to help the arts includes investing in the arts, whether that is by acquiring a museum membership, exposing our children to the arts via instructional opportunities or attending an event. We, especially art and cultural organizations and creative businesses, should come together to implement Imagine 2020: Denver's Cultural Plan. Throughout our community input process, we heard from more than 5,000 residents that we value art and want more of it. This is the time to come together and make things happen.
Finally, the reauthorization of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) is coming up, and it is critical that we continue to support it. This special tax district in the Denver metropolitan area supporting big and small art, culture, and science organizations is a national model that has put us at the forefront of cultural development. One-tenth of one percent of sales-and-use tax (or one penny on every $10 spent) results in approximately $40 million each year. This makes sense, and it is imperative we vote yes again.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
There are so many! Damon McLeese, director of VSA Colorado, is magnificent and one of my favorite Colorado creatives. VSA is an inclusive organization that provides creative and educational opportunities for people with disabilities to access and experience the arts. Damon's vision, pragmatic approach, business sense and kindness are inspiring. No one else in our city is doing what he does in such an innovative way. He continuously impresses me with the programs he develops. Others that come to mind include visual artist Emilio Lobato, Garrett Ammon (Artistic Director for Wonderbound) and civic and business leader Amy Harmon. They are all making a mark in our city's artistic, cultural and civic landscape.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
We launched Imagine 2020: Denver's Cultural Plan in March, so we will be in the throes of implementing a robust group of initiatives, working with the Commission on Cultural Affairs, Arts & Venues staff, and the community. Imagine 2020 provides a framework for everything we do, which is exciting. We will also be going under construction at the McNichols Building at the end of the summer. We will bring back the grandeur and historical beauty of the grand staircase to the venue and some very much-needed modern necessities that will allow us to amplify our work serving the community.
The McNichols Cultural Partner Program, a unique activation model that we launched in December 2012, has proven very successful and we are committed to its continued growth. McNichols has become a premier venue for private events and a platform to feature our city's talent. The Cultural Partner Program has supported numerous organizations by offering a rental waiver and funding for implementation. There is no other venue or program like it.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local art community in 2014?
When we think about our local art community, we don't necessarily think of the Denver Botanic Gardens, but the artistic interventions that have taken place in the Gardens under the leadership of Brian Vogt are exciting. Our community has a great opportunity to experience nature and art in different ways. This is not just the dramatic Chihuly work on display there now, but also exhibitions featuring Colorado artists, including Kim Dickey and Yoshitomo Saito, or Henry Moore's monumental works.
I also want to mention the great art and culture team at the airport: Chris Stevens, Mandy Renaud, Tim Vacca and Kendall Peterson, who continue to do great things in one of our most important city assets. Finally, I can't spoil the surprise, but this November we will announce the recipients of the 2014 Mayor's Awards for Excellence in Arts & Culture, and these are individuals and organizations that make significant and lasting contributions to the artistic, cultural and creative landscape in the City and County of Denver.
Stay tuned for some impressive talent-making change in Denver, and did I mention that I work with the best team ever? I am privileged to work with some of the most talented people in the city, and I am immensely happy to go to work every morning. I hope to share with our residents more often what their city team does to enhance our quality of life via arts, culture and creativity.
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