Conversation by: Kylie Cooper Photos by: Rachel Benavides
KC: A Corpus Christi native, you left the Coastal Bend for quite some time to pursue your education and career. From the Dallas Museum of Art to Sotheby’s London, you lived quite a bit of life before your story brought you back here. What do you feel your experiences outside of the Coastal Bend did for you and your career?
DB: Yes, New Orleans, Mexico City, Austin, Dallas, London, Miami, New York, Bedford – it is a pretty good list of cities to call home. And yet I feel so lucky to live in Corpus Christi. I am able to truly appreciate the beauty and resources we enjoy. The lifestyle is enviable; long summers, easy access to gorgeous locations, and a community that is so involved in civic life.
My experiences working in some of the most competitive markets and cities gives me an edge. I am agile when I need to make changes and confident in my choices. The biggest challenge I face is patience. It has taken far longer to get the Art Center where it is today than I expected. We are finally positioned to make improvements we need to make the greatest impact on this community.
KC: Talk to me about your time spent in New York. I know you opened a digital graphic design studio in Manhattan; what inspired you to open it, and what did you learn from that experience that you carry with you to this day?
DB: I started out just doing proofreading to help a designer friend. The Macintosh SE – those small cube computers – had just been released, and it completely enchanted me. The more I learned to use the design software, the better I got, and soon I was the faster designer. We decided to quit our jobs and open a studio. The timing was terrible; we never should have survived. Ad agencies were firing art directors by the droves. We were competing against better qualified people and more experienced agencies – but we were determined and having fun.
That was my first experience running a business. It was a steep learning curve, but I found joy in making something from nothing more than an idea. It influenced my style of management. I like to bring that spirit of individuality to every person on staff. We discuss the goals and they execute their responsibilities with the freedom of an entrepreneur. It is a unique dynamic that has enabled the Art Center to thrive.
KC: Although you’ve held positions in other fields – your work has always been centered around art in some way. When was your first cognizant memory of art, and was there a moment you knew you wanted to build a career around it?
DB: I remember my mother painting in the 1970s. She was active in the local art scene. In fact, she was one of the founders of the Art Center of Corpus Christi. I’ve been surrounded by artists and art my entire life.
When I was in my teens, I saw Gothic cathedrals and tons of Renaissance paintings for the first time, and it was magical. I could sense the presence of the makers. It was the experience of having art transport my mind and imagination. I longed to be near art ever since. So when I was a realtor, my specialty naturally became historic homes with hand-hewn floorboards and blown glass windows. I have always been hopelessly enamored with and drawn to art elements in every job.
KC: You returned to the Coastal Bend in 2009. What brought you back home, and where does the Art Center of Corpus Christi fit into that story?
DB: I came down in early 2009 for a family reunion. My business was decimated by the 2008 financial crisis, [and] I saw an opportunity to move back and improve the quality of life for my entire family. The alternative was a job in Manhattan that would result in my children being raised by a nanny and [me] hardly seeing them. I immediately got involved in local art, serving on the Arts & Culture Commission. We organized an exhibit that was held at the Art Center. Fortuitously, there was a job opening, and when the director retired, I was selected to take the helm.
KC: What is one of the most challenging and the most rewarding aspects of directing an art center?
DB: Hands down, the most challenging part of my job is meeting the demand for our programs with such a small staff and budget. And hands down, the most rewarding part is receiving the gratitude from visitors and members. I get to hear beautiful stories of how important the Art Center of Corpus Christi has been to people’s lives. They are stories of how practicing art “saved their life,” “got them through” tragedy or illness, or that it is their “mental wellness activity.” It is humbling.
KC: With a big aspect of art revolving around the notion of people gathering in a space to observe it, how has the pandemic influenced the way you think about gallery spaces?
DB: The pandemic crystallized my understanding of the Art Center’s role as a gathering place. We have heard from people over and over again, almost daily, how much they miss coming to the Art Center, whether it is to see and shop for art or for a class, lunch or family art time. I have to admit, I didn’t fully appreciate how important the Art Center of Corpus Christi is to so many people, not only the artists.
KC: What inspires you?
KC: After a decade of directing the Art Center of Corpus Christi, what’s next? What do you see the future of the center looking like?
DB: The Art Center of Corpus Christi will be expanding in ways that will position it as the primary bayfront destination. We are in the process of developing a Master Plan. It is a pointing to an incredibly exciting future. While I cannot go into details yet, I can say with certainty that the mission will remain the same. The first step is underway right now. I hope that by the time readers are enjoying this issue, we will have announced who will be operating the Art Center restaurant and what new dining experiences are coming.
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