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New Director Talks About The Future Of The San Diego Museum Of Art

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Aired 6/3/10

Last week, Roxana Velásquez was named the new executive director at the San Diego Museum of Art. She is the first woman to hold the post in the institution's 84-year history. Velásquez joins us by phone to talk about her future with the museum.

Roxana Velásquez Martínez del Campo, the newly appointed executive director at the San Diego Museum of Art.
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Above: Roxana Velásquez Martínez del Campo, the newly appointed executive director at the San Diego Museum of Art.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. One of the foremost art museum directors in Mexico is coming to San Diego. Roxana Velasquez has been named the new executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. The museum's last director, Derrick Cartwright, left last year to head the Seattle Art Museum. Roxana Velasquez was born in the United States, raised in Mexico and will be the first woman to direct the San Diego Museum of Art. Good morning, Roxana, and congratulations.

ROXANA VELASQUEZ (Executive Director, San Diego Museum of Art): Thank you, Maureen. Good morning, and I’m very happy as you can imagine.

CAVANAUGH: Well, so our listeners get a sense of your background, can you talk to us a little bit about your leadership roles at art institutions in Mexico?

VELASQUEZ: Yes, definitely. I arrived to the Museo Nacional de San Carlos 20 years ago. This is a national, very important museum in Mexico City, devoted to European works of art. In fact, it’s the first museum created in the whole American continent. 1781 is the date.

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

VELASQUEZ: So we come – Exactly. Very, very early, and it was really a museum, not only a school of art. So I started there my career as a chief curator in 1990, as I said, after studying art history here in Mexico. And did a lot of work and research regarding the permanent collection that has 3000 works of art. Zurbarán, Sorolla, some Pontormos and for a long time other pieces. So worked a lot with the finest curators of European and American museums as well.

CAVANAUGH: Indeed, you’ve often – you’re known internationally for collaborating with other countries on projects. Will you continue that process here at the San Diego Museum of Art?

VELASQUEZ: Definitely, Maureen. I think that is one of the main objectives that to continue this extraordinary work that Derrick and all the former directors that have come before me have done, and to move a little more to many collaborations not only with exhibitions but with education matters, obviously creating new models for achieving this broadening of the audiences.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about some of the projects, these international projects you’ve worked on, because I was reading about them and they’re fascinating.

VELASQUEZ: Well, in the formal museums, as I was telling you, at San Carlos I did exhibitions devoted to Victorian art, for example, in 1997 and worked with many of the British museums and the U.K. museums. And then during the Munal, which is the other national museum, Museo Nacional de Arte, also very well known in Mexico, I did exhibitions on symbolism and on Goya. And it’s important to mention that these museums belong to the National Fine Art Institute in Mexico and that they are separated for one or two blocks of distance only here. But the three are major incredible antique buildings. And had to work and to create different models.

CAVANAUGH: Just so you’re not running all around Mexico, you just have that one block to look at.

VELASQUEZ: Exactly. When you come, and I’m sure you have been here to Mexico City, you’ll see this extraordinary 18th century, 19th century and now the latest museum, the Palacio de las Artes that I’m sure that you have seen. It’s very, very iconic and emblematic in the country and worldwide because it has in its foreign collection these 17 extraordinary murals by Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco and all of our grand Mexican artists. And it also houses an opera house and a lot of international exhibitions. And the one that’s currently happening, the Magritte, great exhibition that is currently taking place since March 18th.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Roxana Velasquez. She has been named the new executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art. I’m wondering, Roxana, what are you looking forward to in this new position?

VELASQUEZ: Well, definitely, first of all, and as I always say when I come to new positions, I’m looking to learn, to learn about ways of working that are different people, different perspectives. You know, I enjoy a lot meeting everybody and learning through their perspectives, and also bringing with me the whole bunch of connections that I have through 20 years of working with many, many different places, different ways of approaching for the main purpose which is, Maureen, and thank you for this space, to communicate the real importance that I give to art. I’ve been devoted to art and I think – I can’t think of anything better done by human beings than art.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, a lot of museums in this country have had an impact from the recession. A lot of – You know, there’s not as much tourism as there used to be, and it’s harder to mount some exhibitions and so forth, what are your thoughts on that and how will you steer the San Diego Museum of Art through this recessionary period?

VELASQUEZ: Well, as you said, a lot of American museums but a lot of worldwide museums.

CAVANAUGH: Yes. Yes.

VELASQUEZ: I mean, this is really a global phenomenon, this crisis, of course, that we all are aware of that started in 2009. It’s a fact. And I receive this museum, obviously, like being very well taken care of by the trustees. I saw that the finance are stable and that the board have taken really proactive action and I know, as I said, all the time that all the places have problems. But I have to live with this world, you know. I was born 43 years ago, and the word crisis in Mexico is almost a constant so I am really aware of it and also sure that when you go through these periods then creativity has to come out. You know, you have to create things and to, obviously, work with other museums, prorate things. I mean, there’s a lot of enthusiasm as you can hear from me…

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

VELASQUEZ: …because you’re starting to imagine all the wonderful things that we will do together with what is already happening there.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Roxana, I don’t want to take up a lot of your time because I know you have all of these things that you still have to do in Mexico City. I’m wendering – I’m wondering, that is, when do you start your post here in San Diego?

VELASQUEZ: Yes, Maureen, I’ll be there the first of September and I’m exactly finishing the work here after 20 years and letting everybody know about this new position. So will arrive to the museum officially the first of September. I’m looking forward very much to start with all the wonderful team there.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for your time.

VELASQUEZ: Thank you, Maureen, for this space and we’ll certainly keep in touch.

CAVANAUGH: We certainly will. Roxana Velasquez is the new executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

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