The Briscoe Western Art Museum celebrates its first year in operation this month and new Executive Director Tom Livesay is confident the Museum’s specialty of presenting Western art and realism will help it thrive for years to come.
A fourth-generation Texan who most recently served as executive director of the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, Livesay brings more than 40 years of museum experience and a degree in studio art and sculpture from the University of Texas to the historic downtown cultural landmark.
The LSU Museum of Art was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums under his leadership – the highest national recognition for a museum.
Livesay will lead the strategic planning process for the Briscoe with the goal of establishing it and its programming and exhibits as an educational and cultural resource for San Antonio and Texas.
“I want to make sure the Briscoe has a place in the San Antonio cultural scene, which is already very rich and vivid,” he said. “We have some wonderful museums in town – the McNay Art Museum, the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Institute of Texan Cultures – that have been around for several generations and have the advantage of already finding their way and their place in the city.
“The Briscoe has a good mission of showing the best quality of Western art and the Western experience not just through art but through the artifacts that are on display that are pretty far outside the realm of painting and sculpture,” he said.
While at LSU Museum of Art, Livesay said he experienced a fantastic place that benefited from the ambiance of the river, complete with cypress trees on its banks – an atmosphere and vision that parallels the potential of museums in San Antonio.
“I liked working (at the LSU Museum of Art) because it was not simply relegated to the LSU campus – it was off campus and in downtown Baton Rouge, opening it to the whole population of the city,” he said. “It was a lot of fun and very rewarding, and I suspect the Briscoe will also be very rewarding and, with a little bit of luck, a lot of fun.”
Visitors may not know the Briscoe is home to some key relics of San Antonio’s unique cultural history, from Pancho Villa’s saddle to the sword of General Antonio López de Santa Anna.
The Guerra Family Gallery displays the contributions of Mexican and Hispanic societies to the West, sharing selections from the collection in the Enrique and Lydia Guerra and Family Gallery.
In short, the Briscoe showcases an interesting mix of Western and Mexican art that often is overlooked in museums, Livesay noted.
“I’m a believer in museums because they present authenticity – people don’t have to guess about whether something is a reproduction,” he said. “Museums are almost the No. 1 source for accurate information as far as the American public is concerned.
“The fact that it is Santa Anna’s sword on display says something that was touched by history and authentically linked to the past – the connection is really amazing,” he added. “It’s something you can’t get through a photograph or through reading the Internet. What you get and hold through your own experience is beyond replication.”
Born in Dallas and raised in Forth Worth, Livesay worked his way from Longview to the Amarillo Art Center and then to the Dallas Museum of Art, building experience in directing and management.
From there, he went on to Santa Fe, where he served for 15 years as the director of the Museum of New Mexico, a large state museum encompassing five museums in Santa Fe and five state monuments through the southwestern part of the state.
The new executive director said he hopes to bring his expertise to the table in working with the Briscoe’s board of directors.
“The museum is already traveling in the right direction – we have very dedicated trustees who are committed to the institution, and the people here are pretty amazing,” he said.
Livesay envisions installing a program of temporary exhibitions and educational programming, much like the upcoming distinguished lecture featuring S.C. Gwynne, author of “Empire of the Summer Moon,” at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 6.
Livesay said he loves the concept of changing exhibitions and ideas within the museum to keep it as contemporary as possible, shaping the museum to cater to San Antonio residents, first and foremost.
He began his new role on Oct. 6. He succeeds Steven Karr, PhD., who oversaw the Briscoe completion and grand opening in 2013 and led the museum until his departure in June.
*Featured/top image: The Briscoe Western Art Museum. Photo by Iris Dimmick.