CAMH's New Director A Rocker At Heart

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Bill Arning, the current curator of the List Visual Arts Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will assume his position as director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston on April 6, 2009.

His hiring ends a 10-month search.

"It was a long process," Arning tells Hair Balls, "but I'm very happy with the way it turned out."

Even before his career in the art world, he was a freelance writer and a proud member of a small punk band named The Student Teachers.

"Mr. Arning impressed us not only with his experience and scholarship but also with his infectious energy and love of contemporary art," CAMH board chair Reggie Smith said the museum's official announcement. "He is an internationally respected art curator and writer whose prior experience as a director satisfies the Museum's long-standing conviction that a successful museum leader possess an understanding of both roles."

Arning will be taking over as director after Linda Shearer who has served as the CAMH interim director after Marti Mayo's departure from CAMH in June 2007.

Being a director of a museum, especially during an economic downturn, will be challenging, but is an essential responsibility and duty of the director, Arning said, and is in part what piqued his interest in Houston in the first place.

Arning feels there are similarities between Boston and Houston. In most places, there is only one contemporary museum in town, responsible for the exposure of a city's audience who only gets to see what that one museum has to offer, Arning said. However, both cities are fortunate in having many spaces in which art can thrive.

"We are blessed with, both Boston and Houston, a lot of spaces and that fundamentally alters the art ecology," said Arning.

Though they may share a common ground of wide accessibility and exposure, the differences between the communities is that they differ in their focus. Most of Boston's spaces are affiliated with universities, creating a "pedagogical mission" which dominates the ideology of art showing in Boston, said Arning.

"You have to look at the city as a sort of one ecology," said Arning, "and fill what needs are not being met."

He was also pleased to know that in contrast to many Bostonian artists' choosing to stay in Boston because of its close proximity to New York and other art places of interest, many Texas artists know how to make good use of the internet, making connections across cities and getting international attention. One show in particular, Neo-Neo HooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith, blew him away and was recently exhibited in Houston.

"I got to see that in New York and I totally loved it and I wish I had seen it in the gorgeous space of the Menil," said Arning.

In keeping with CAMH's mission "always fresh, always free," Arning has plenty of new ideas to bring to CAMH, largely having to do with where live arts and gallery arts interconnect.

"One thing I think we need to expand is more live arts," said Arning. "People will go and have experiences in a museum, rather than just looking, and I think that's probably one of the more interesting areas of contemporary practice."

Although he looks forward most to his director position at CAMH, a rocker at heart, Arning also looks forward to seeing Morrisey twice, once before leaving Boston and once as a resident Houstonian in 2009.

As for The Student Teachers, does he see a reunion anytime soon?

"I don't...We're all off on different walks of our lives," Arning said. "We're all still really, really close friends."

-- Melanie Pang

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