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Growing up with a creative mother helped develop my interest in the arts at a very young age. I remember experimenting with all the various mediums and styles throughout my childhood, and during high school, I knew for certain I wanted to work in a related field. I felt art was magical and created a universe full of escape that was able to articulate emotion and ideas without words. It had a vast power to connect, represent, and tell stories. The depth of art felt greater than just paint on a canvas, it felt universal. 

Once I graduated from high school, I raced to find my path in the creative community and got my bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Texas at San Antonio. During my time there, I was fortunate enough to intern at ArtPace in downtown San Antonio. While I was interning, I was able to engage with patrons, assist resident artists, and work on a public outreach program. For the first time, I understood what a professional career in the arts could look like. I also learned the importance of art and the impact it can have. Art is uniquely positioned to move people — inspiring us, inciting new questions, and provoking curiosity, excitement, and outrage. By fostering communication, addressing larger social and cultural issues, and sparking dialogue, art continued to inform my professional choices and personal interests.

After college, I spent a few years in California, but I could not resist the history and vibrancy of the local culture and decided to come back home and claim a spot in the arts community that was beginning to flourish. I was fortunate enough to spend seven years as an art preparator and lighting specialist before landing the exhibition manager position at the Briscoe Western Art Museum. 

Jason Kirkland, exhibition manager at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, left, watches Aidan Furey prepare a wall for a painting on Tuesday.
Jason Kirkland, exhibition manager at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, left, watches Aidan Furey prepare a wall for a painting on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Over the last two and a half years, the Briscoe has been a supportive family that has helped my career blossom, while also providing many opportunities for growth and exploration. Luckily, my experience in public art institutions had prepared me for these new challenges and role. There are many logistical tasks that come with my job. Balancing schedules internally and externally with contractors, keeping up with administrative paperwork, planning gallery layouts, future shows, and creating graphics are just a few items on the Monday to-do list. Meeting these challenges is made easier because of the team I work with.

My immediate team includes our museum preparator, collections manager, museum educator, curator of education, and curator of art. Our work is a true collaborative effort and there is a genuine feeling of camaraderie and family among the team members.

As for most, the pandemic presented many unforeseen and new challenges that required quick thinking, flexibility, and adapting. Our annual Night of Artists exhibition and sale was set to open just two weeks prior to the citywide shutdown, so we regrouped and quickly determined the best online platform for hosting the bidding process. We then had to formulate a plan to reach our audience in new ways while the museum remained closed. This led to the creation of digital programming, virtual tours, Zoom webinars, and a greater social media presence. These efforts included a new series called Ask an Artist, where we conducted several livestreamed artist Q&A’s, and a newsletter called Beyond the Briscoe.

The Briscoe’s exhibition schedule features quarterly rotations in our permanent galleries and two special exhibitions throughout the year, all of which aim to educate our audiences about Western culture. The annual Night of Artists exhibition and sale is by far my biggest challenge. Planning for this exhibition, which features nearly 300 works of art by almost 80 artists exhibited in roughly 8,000 square feet, is a huge undertaking; but it is a highly rewarding experience because it supports the museum’s exhibitions and educational programming, public outreach, and operations.

Jason Kirkland, exhibition manager at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, stands in front of the “Still in the Saddle” exhibit on Tuesday.
Jason Kirkland, exhibition manager at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, stands in front of the “Still in the Saddle” exhibit on Tuesday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

San Antonio has a rich cultural history and unique position as a Western crossroads. This is encapsulated by our motto: The West Starts Here. Visiting the museum, members and guests gain a heightened understanding of the connection San Antonio and South Texas have to the larger region, history, and culture of the American West. The Briscoe highlights the region’s Native American history, Spanish exploration, historic missions, and its important role as a servicing and distribution center for the western movement of the U.S. After the Civil War, San Antonio prospered as a cattle, distribution, mercantile, and military center serving the border region and the Southwest largely due to the major cattle trail drives.

While San Antonio is recognized for its rich history and culture, we are also known for entertaining and celebrating. One project I am very proud of is our current show, Still in the Saddle – A New History of the Hollywood Western. This exhibition — complete with a 60-foot red carpet, a mini theater experience infused with a buttered popcorn aroma, and original screen-worn John Wayne costumes — explores and celebrates the Western film during the height of its reign at the box office and subsequent attempts to revive the genre. Being part of an organization that meticulously curates beautiful stories is not only inspiring but also humbling. To quote Dirty Harry, “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?” Yes, I do.

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Jason Kirkland

Jason Kirkland is the exhibition manager at Briscoe Western Art Museum.