On the eve of Blue Star Red Dot, good things are afoot at The Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Mary Heathcott, the new director appointed in February, has rolled up her sleeves to take the organization to the next level.
“Mary Heathcott is poised to bring a new collaborative way of working to Blue Star and has the strong support of an engaged board to carry this out,” said Board member and Education Chair Penelope Speier. “We want to totally involve all age groups with the creating, experiencing and understanding of art as a way to navigate and decipher our lives.”
Heathcott has a gentle firmness about her. She is accessible and friendly with an easy smile. Everyone seems pleased with her leadership style.
She was well regarded at Artpace, where she served as deputy director through a tumultuous period for the organization. Before then, she was manager of individual giving at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Heathcott brings considerable organizational gifts to build on the work of her predecessors. Blue Star is the oldest contemporary arts organization in San Antonio, born in 1986 in a grassroots uprising that ultimately became Contemporary Art Month. Over the past 27 years Blue Star has served as a cultural anchor in the Southtown neighborhoods. It’s currently undergoing a major expansion and makeover.
When we spoke earlier this month, Heathcott shared some of her immediate goals.
“We are welcoming new staff to create our development department,” she said. “Our new development manager is Elaine Leahy.”
Leahy joined the Blue Star one month ago from the Southwest School of Art where she had served as an executive assistant. With degrees in art history, criticism, and conservation, she brings considerable acumen to her new post.
“We had worked together previously on projects at Artpace,” Heathcott said. “She is resourceful and proactive. We have had great success in managing special events together. What I really like is that she is able to roll with the punches.”
An online catalogue of the works the Blue Star owns has been created. A frequent question I’ve heard, “Why is it being called a ‘museum?’ There is no collection.”
It turns out that’s not true, and now we will have an opportunity to take a look. According to Heathcott, “There is work in the Blue Star vault donated for various benefits, but never before catalogued.”
The first stage of this online viewing system comes in time for the annual extravaganza and art sale Blue Star Red Dot, Wednesday at 7 p.m. Tickets are still available online and at the door. The work of 50 artists is available for sale. This is the perfect opportunity to add to your art collection and support the work of the museum. Preview the work for sale here.
“Red Dot is always an excellent way to become acquainted with the plethora of talented artists working in San Antonio,” said Susan Oliver Heard, owner of Cinnabar Gallery and Blue Star board member. “I like it when I visit friends’ homes and they proudly proclaim ‘I got that at Red Dot.’ It is a fun way to interact with the community and it is always a really fantastically fun party. I love being a part of it and I hope to take something new and exciting home with me every year.”
Heard also takes the opportunity to point out that rather than asking artists to donate work for the benefit of Blue Star, which places a financial burden on artists, the Museum purchases work.
“Blue Star is so important because it helps cultivate our fertile arts ecosystem,” Heard said. “I love being neighbors with them as well as with all the other talented artists and galleries in this complex. It gives me a daily sense of direction and community.”
Blue Star Red Dot raises funds for operations and exhibitions, MOSAIC educational programming, lectures, workshops, and family activities. The fact of the matter is that The Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum is primarily an educational facility, acting as an incubator of sorts for the advancement of contemporary art in our city. This organization touches artists at every level.
Heathcott is particularly proud of MOSAIC, the after-school arts program mentored by artist Alex Rubio. Students are recruited into the program as freshmen and remain for four years — every day, year in, year out, after school from 4:30 until 7:30.
“We have a 100% graduation rate with these kids,” Heathcott said. “Alex is so good with them!”
Heathcott looks forward to raising the profile of MOSAIC.
“It is so special and so rare. Hopefully, they will be working with some larger public commissions in the coming months.”
Heathcott has her eye on the international horizon with a continuing commitment to the Blue Star Berlin Residency Program.
“Blue Star awards four artists annually the opportunity to live and conduct their studio practice in one of the world’s most significant art centers, Berlin, Germany,” according to the Blue Star website.
“There are projects in the works for 2015, and we will be bringing in guest curators,” she said. “Some from the community, and some from outside. I am hoping to work more closely with Casa Chuck. It seems like a natural partnership.”
Heathcott is at her core a consensus builder, a bridge builder.
This year’s Honorary Artist for Red Dot is Gary Sweeney. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. He is always out and about in the community, frequently lending his support, interest, and genuine curiosity to his fellow artists. When asked about Blue Star’s impact on our town, this is what he had to say:
“I think the impact that Blue Star has had on San Antonio artists cannot be overstated: The two old guard art museums in town have only recently begun to pay attention to local artists. Artpace has done an amazing job of highlighting local talent, along with bringing national and international artists to San Antonio, but Blue Star has been our Grande Dame (without the stuffiness) when it comes to local artists.”
*Featured/top image: 2011’s Red Dot decorum. Photo by Justin Parr.