Former cultural advisor to the Australian Consulate in New York, associate of La Lutta Media Collective and member of New York Women in Film and Television, Lea Rekow has recently been announced as the new executive director of the Center for Contemporary Arts. She begins on Dec. 1.
Disclosure: Zane Fischer was executive director of CCA in the late 1990s.
SFR: Are you crazy?
LR: What gave you that idea? I mean, you don’t have to believe everything you hear.
You’ve just become executive director of a nonprofit arts organization that has been struggling
financially for at least 13 years, in a city with approximately 1,000 nonprofits competing for funding and the economy is in shambles. Seems crazy.
I think no matter where you have a nonprofit, it’s going to struggle these days. A for-profit is likely to be struggling for that matter. It’s just tough right now. It’s tough all over.
So you’ll be getting together with other arts organizations and asking for a federal bailout?
Not a federal bailout, no. But I do hope to partner with as many organizations as I can. I’ve been doing my best to sort of get a sense of Santa Fe over the past couple of months as a newcomer. I plan to solicit the advice of people who know the lay of the land and understand how things work here. So far what I’m told is interesting and somewhat contradictory, but that’s always the case.
What changes can we expect to see at CCA, once you’ve got the lay of the land?
You can expect to see a lot of changes really quickly. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of the economy is going to dictate that. It would be great to be arriving here in a time of prosperity, but the fact is that many changes will be dictated to me by the economy. I have to make some tough decisions now in order to weather the storm and keep CCA solid in the long term. What’s key is that we maintain good, diverse, cross-disciplinary programming that is committed to the artists of the region. And just because times are tough doesn’t mean we can’t move forward. I want to raise CCA’s profile to be more in connection bicoastally. We’re not going to sacrifice our commitment to the region, but I want to introduce more symbiotic relationships with other places for the sake of mutual benefit. I guess I’m a transnationalist.
Your accent would imply so. Where are you from? New Zealand?
I spent some of my teen years in New Zealand, but I’m from Australia. I lived for several years in greater Asia in several different countries and traversed much of Asia overland. I spent some time in Africa, the Middle East and Europe and, in 1998, I ended up in New York. I got my master’s and taught at the Pratt Institute for a while. I’ve spent the last 10 years based in New York and traveling the Americas, shooting a lot of film.
You’ve done a fair amount of filmmaking, is that right?
My most recent project involved sneaking into Burma and hanging out with the rebel army. It’s a short documentary on the forgotten history of their civil war.
You seem so good-natured and you’re quite small, but you must be pretty tough.
I used to be kind of tough, I guess, but roughing it with rebel armies is, while exciting, not necessarily quite as treacherous as it sounds on the surface. It’s just an unfamiliar lifestyle to most people. That documentary is really just an appendage to an oral histories project. What drives me is the search to understand compassion—I try to find people who have had real struggles and learn how they cope, how they find peace. But I have to get right in there. I’m a very phenomenological person.
This can be a prickly community to put your hands on. What’s your take on whether Santa Fe is more or less provincial or progressive or delusional than New York?
It’s likely all true, all the way around. No place is one-dimensional. I think that regionalism, cultural cringe and defensiveness—all those things—are obsolete in this age. We are all very connected at this point in terms of information and, in practice, New York can be provincial—it’s a small town in many ways too. Santa Fe is very socially complex and geographically beautiful. I can’t see many other places in the US that
I would have moved to. This is just a special place, geographically and intellectually.
And CCA’s role? Some people feel CCA has drifted away from the community in pursuit of prestige.
I understand there’s a bit of controversy there. Personally, I’m sticking with it being the center for contemporary arts—what it’s called is what it is. I believe in contemporary art. CCA is a place for the community to view contemporary art. That said, I don’t want to be beholden to boundaries. I want to respect the engagement of the community locally and of the greater Southwest region and, hopefully, beyond, but I think that boundaries are discriminatory. I don’t think they’re necessary. I don’t want to pigeonhole CCA. I want it to remain dedicated to its mission and to be a gathering place for the community. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I’m going to run it with integrity, be a good listener to all its advocates and all its critics, and make sure it’s a cool place to come and hang.
How’s Santa Fe treating you as a place to come and hang?
Fantastic. It’s incredible. We’re renting a house in Casa Solana and the very first day that I went out into my backyard I saw a mountain lion. People said, ‘No, you didn’t see a mountain lion.’ Then, there it was in the paper: “mountain lion roaming about” or something. It was amazing, I really felt blessed. Still, maybe I should be careful about letting the 2-year-old roam free in the yard, right?