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New Director of the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans

gia-hamilton-2-650x974Native New Orleanian Gia Hamilton is the director of the Joan Mitchell Center here in New Orleans. The Center is an outreach of the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New York City formed by abstract expressionist artist Joan Mitchell. Hamilton brings to this position vast experience in many aspects of development in the cultural communities, undergraduate and graduate degrees in anthropology, and a gift for developing individuals, neighborhoods, school districts, and artists. Hamilton received her bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology from New York University and her master’s degree in applied anthropology from CUNY Graduate Center. For the past 15 years, she has worked with non-profit organizations as career management coach, facilitator, curator and cultural consultant. She comes to the Joan Mitchell Center with a broad perspective of visual art, operational functions and community development.

HOLLIS:

Your resume is rich with accomplishment and concern for all aspects of education, mental and physical health, organization, and creativity. Could you please tell us what brought you to the Center in the first place?

HAMILTON:

I moved back to New Orleans in 2009 in search of my roots and to get grounded personally and professionally. I found myself integrating many of my passions into what is now a consulting group called Gris Gris Lab. As a senior consultant at Gris Gris Lab, I began working with the Joan Mitchell Center in 2011 to support the development of the artist residency program. I am currently developing the AIR program for a 2015 launch and managing a staff of seven amazing and dedicated staff.

HOLLIS:

How do you feel your studies in anthropology inform your work at the Center?

HAMILTON:

My anthropological lens colors everything, for instance I am constantly observing the culture of organizations, corporations and informal groups and it informs our entry point in a more focused way. This way of approaching the programming allows me to be thoughtful because I acknowledge all the moving pieces around me, so there is a much more integrative and interdependent approach to working.

HOLLIS:

Can you talk about the kinds of events that you are planning for the upcoming year that will satisfy these goals?

HAMILTON:

The theme for this year is “Rooted”. In order for the Center to make the kind of impact we would like, we need to grow roots in the city; and that takes time because it involves building relationships. This year we will be undergoing renovation of existing buildings on site at the Center and brand new construction of a state of the art studio for our residency program. Our New Orleans Local Artists (NOLA) Studio Program will continue with the 10 artists selected to participate, providing them with professional development and networking opportunities. The Center will also focus on producing ongoing programs including Community Coffee, our monthly open house that will take place at the Center, the off-site studios on Rampart and various locations throughout the city this year. We also plan to produce another Town Hall, which is our call and response style forum for larger issues concerning the arts community along with those partners. And of course there will be a few surprises in the mix just to keep things interesting. Really, we like to be nimble and responsive enough to our environment that we can seize opportunities as they arise.

HOLLIS:

I notice that you are turning to members of the community here to help with various events. How does this fit into the goals of the Foundation and your way of operating?

HAMILTON:

The Joan Mitchell Foundation has a board, but we at the Joan Mitchell Center are fortunate to have a local advisory council that consists of cultural practitioners, arts administrators who represent multidisciplinary art forms in New Orleans. This council is an informal group that provides feedback about what is happening in the New Orleans art and cultural scene. We promote each other’s events and they act as discipline specific leaders for communicating our message to the community with us. We also are extremely fortunate to have local Joan Mitchell Foundation board member, visual artist and scholar Ron Bechet to encourage the staff on a regular basis and attend events. But for now, our advisory council is structured to offer support with regard to outreach and engagement. They reach communities that we would like to have in our network and learn more about. They also help connect us to industries that are connected to the visual arts community.

HOLLIS:

Could you share your long-range dreams for the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans?

HAMILTON:

When I listen to staff speak about the Center, it is full of passion and commitment to making this the best residency program ever! I take this excitement along with (joan Mitchell Foundation Executive Director) Carolyn Somer’s vision to have a diverse group of artists both enjoying retreat style residency as well as supporting artists with a social practice who are engaged with community as a part of their studio practice deeply connecting with the local community. With time and dedication, we will be able to accomplish this with our partners and support from the other Joan Mitchell Foundation programs acting strategically together.

HOLLIS:

What would you like citizens in New Orleans to know about who you hope will attend events at the Center?

HAMILTON:

The Joan Mitchell Center is a new residency center that seeks to serve a diverse group of visual artists from the local, national and international communities. We are committed to providing time, space and resources for artists that account for their changing needs as well as develop programming that invite new audiences into the contemporary art community. We are thrilled to be situated in one of New Orleans oldest neighborhoods and share space with our neighbors The New Orleans Tribune, Le Musée de f.p.c., Community Book Center, King and Queen Emporium, CoCoHut, Pagoda Café, CANO and so many others both commercial and residential. Stay tuned for updates on our capitol project and public programming, It is brewing with excitement.

HOLLIS:

In 10 years, what do you hope the Joan Mitchell Center will have accomplished here in New Orleans?

HAMILTON:

I hope that there will be a global dialogue about the role of art in our world and how art shapes cities. Hopefully, The Center will serve as a model for artist-support and how employing visual artists actually strengths the local cultural economy of a place and also generates resources for the larger arts community worldwide; I want our local artists to be a part of that equation.

For more information about the Center email info@joanmitchellcenter.org or call 504.940.2500 or stop by The Joan Mitchell Center located at 2275 Bayou Road.

Dr. Sara Hollis is a professor in the M.A. Museum Studies Program at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO). She can be reached at shollis@suno.edu.

 

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