“Critics said she was obviously painting female genitalia,” said docent Barbara Kimball as she led a group of SFUAD Business Program students on a guided tour of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum on Dec. 5. “From that point on she said she would only paint realistic depictions of flowers, and there was no way anyone would be able to find genitalia in her work.” The tour was part of the Speaker Series for Arts Management, designed to bring students into contact with business professionals. Business Program Chairman Brad Bergsbaken hopes his students will learn from the creativity of museum curators and directors. “I hope that they will see that there’s not just art hanging on the wall,” he said, “but there’s also art in the vision of the curators who put it there.”
The museum currently contains a great deal of work by artists other than Georgia O’Keeffe. Arthur Dove’s abstract paintings hang on the wall beside Stuart Davis’ cubist work. Kimball noted the complexity of Marsden Hartley’s landscapes versus the simplistic workings of O’Keeffe. Business Program major Charles Simon saw the competing art styles as a kind of conversation between artists. “These paintings are in a network around each other,” he said. Simon delighted in seeing that the spirit of competition and camaraderie exists in all facets of the art world. “It’s similar in music,” said Simon, who studied music before joining the business program. “It’s just like when my friends and I share our tracks with each other.”
This blending of art and business is a core tenet of SFUAD’s Business program. The excursion to the O’Keeffe museum is one of many opportunities for business students to engage with creative industry leaders. “They won’t get real world experience until they get it,” said Bergsbaken, “but they can get advice from someone who’s been through it, made mistakes and moved forward.” Bergsbaken recently took over as department chairman, becoming the program’s first full-time faculty member. He completely re-wrote the program’s curriculum over the summer, expanding what was the Arts Management department into a more comprehensive business program. Students attend classes in four concentrations: Arts Management, Communication and Media Management, Entertainment Management and Innovation in Entrepreneurship. While many of the students have yet to choose a concentration, Bergsbaken said that some have begun to migrate toward specific areas. “I think that this new arrangement will make the program more solid and give students some options to focus in more on what they want their eventual career to be.”
As part of the Speaker Series, Bergsbaken intends to engage professionals from all four concentrations. Last spring, students met with Cyndi Conn of Creative Santa Fe, Independent Art Consultant Jackie Melega and Bob Martin of The Lensic. At the O’Keeffe museum, students got to hear from Museum Director Robert Kret, who stood by as the tour concluded at the museum’s Research Center down the road. The Research Center serves as a hub for scholars and post-doctoral students to study the life of Georgia O’Keeffe. The rules are strict within the Research Center. Kimball directed students to leave cameras and pens in a locker before entering the room where O’Keeffe’s belongings are kept. She pulled out drawer after drawer of O’Keeffe memorabilia, ranging from paintbrushes to color chips to rocks and bones. Kret hopes to see these items integrated into the museum over time, blurring the line between the two facilities.
The students gathered around a long table to listen to Kret speak about the winding avenues of his career. “I thought I would be a history teacher,” Kret said. Rather than teaching history, Kret plays a part in showcasing history for the public, serving as director of various museums over the years. He ran 44 historic properties while working for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. As director of Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum of Art, Kret took over an organization that was “in mothballs and had no employee handbook.” By partnering with other local museums, Kret found that he could bundle together employee benefits to save money for all of their organizations. It’s just one of many creative tactics he employed to establish sustainability within the operation.
Bergsbaken said that meeting with individuals like Kret “gives the students an idea of the skill set it takes to be successful. It shows that there is creativity not just on the artist side, but on the management side as well.” After Kret’s talk, students had the opportunity to engage with him over lunch. Bergsbaken said it was a relaxed environment, where Kret opened up a lot and students became more comfortable. “They were talking as much as he was talking. They even threw some ideas at him and he said, ‘I should’ve looked into that.’”
The importance of fresh perspectives is something Bergsbaken hopes to impart to his students. “No one works in a vacuum,” he said. “The building of relationships is essential.” The night before the visit to the O’Keeffe Museum, Bergsbaken took another group of business students to Santa Fe’s Community Gallery to view a show called “Narcissus.” After touring the gallery, students heard from another industry leader, Executive Director of the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission Debra Garcia. “One of the things that came out of her talk was that the building of relationships is essential,” Bergsbaken said. “You never know who you’re going to work with later on.”
Business major Marilyn Marquis said that she hopes to eventually land a career in which she can collaborate with other artists. “I don’t want to be a person who just sits in an office,” she said. “I want something with more of an organic feel.” While Kret’s position at the O’Keeffe museum did not exactly appeal to Marquis, she said the trip to the O’Keeffe museum helped her better define what she wants to do. Like O’Keeffe’s evolving art style throughout her decades of work, Simon says it’s important to grow and explore new things. He pointed to O’Keeffe’s determination to continue painting even after she began to lose her eyesight, as an inspiration for expanding his horizons in the field of arts management. “She reinvented her love,” he said. “It’s never too late.”