An Hour With Mary Heathcott, Executive Director at Blue Star Contemporary
I always get a flutter of excitement when I book time to sit down with Mary Heathcott the Executive Director at Blue Star Contemporary. Walking into her open, airy office space, I’m greeted with crisp white walls, a modest desk and a bright green, very comfortable, couch. I mention the couch for a reason. Her office is a reflection of her. It’s a blank canvas, slightly cluttered showing me that she’s got her hand in several projects and the couch, well, it speaks to Mary’s bright, fun and welcoming side. I don’t hesitate to plop down, get comfortable and start quizzing.
Mary has been with Blue Star Contemporary since February 2014. Tracing her interest in Contemporary Art tells a story that starts in her childhood. Her parents consistently took Mary and her siblings to cultural arts activities and enrolled them in programs. She thoroughly enjoyed them however as she approached post-secondary she didn’t have art on her radar as a career path; in fact, she thought it would be science! An Art History course at Trinity during her time as an undergraduate drove her to shift course. A visual learner, she loved it. She was learning about her liberal arts interests in a way that resonated her. A post undergrad job at the San Antonio Art League Museum, MFA from the University of Houston, Grad school in Chicago and 4 years working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago solidified this as her calling.
And then she came back to San Antonio. Mary worked at Artpace, a non-profit contemporary art gallery in San Antonio, for 8 years prior to joining Blue Star Contemporary. When asked how she felt it prepared her for her current role with BSC the terms ‘creative thinking’, ‘problem solving’. ‘strategy’, and ‘standards for best practices and high quality work’ were discussed. Conceived as a “laboratory of dreams, providing artists from all over the world with an environment that would encourage experimentation and growth”, Artpace provided her with an understanding of what all of the moving parts of a unique, artist centered institution need to look like to function successfully alongside each other. Finding balance and flow for funding, artist management, and the organization of exhibitions, residencies and educational programs is no small task. Mary’s passion for contemporary art and strong desire to support the artists themselves was at the core of her success then and continues to be now.
Blue Star Contemporary was founded by artists, the board is made up of approximately 50% artists and they strive to employ artists ensuring creativity and artist support flows through every step. Mary’s role as the Executive Director is to guide programs, carry out Blue Star Contemporary’s mission and maintain a high level of excellence. This includes curatorial oversight, program development, working with artists to commission new work, fundraising and even the unsexy operations. She is multi-dexterous to say the least.
What makes the challenge of having a lot coming at her all the time, constantly having to put on different thinking hats manageable? A supportive team. Being a leader experienced in knowing how crucial it is to have the right people in the right seat on the bus, her team is fantastic at what they do. She relies on them heavily, delegating, brainstorming and trusting them to do their work to the best of their ability. A dose of good humor doesn’t hurt either.
BSC’s strategic plan has kept them on an organized track and given them the ability to measure success in the future, which Mary speaks about proudly. The facelift of the building, the MOSAIC Student Artist Program, and connecting BSC to public spaces such as the San Antonio Airport, to further expand their reach are each topics she speaks about excitedly and warmly. She intends to ensure BSC is recognized as a model organization that stands behind and provides a high level of service to artists, is paying artists livable wages (they were recently W.A.G.E. certified, read about it here), that the space continues to be a stand for innovation, and that it is exporting and propelling San Antonio’s creative economy. Ultimately, she is ensuring they stay true to their mission. When asked what her dream project is she had this to say: “My dreams come true all the time. It doesn’t leave me wanting much. I constantly get to work with so many great artists.”
Continue to work hard and focus on the conceptual depth of your work is Mary’s advice for artists seeking to have their work on display at Blue Star Contemporary. What is it about your work that makes it an important part of the conversation? Work that is rooted in personal experience or research is attractive, there needs to be something to mine in your experience. Don’t model yourself after something because you think that is what you should be doing. Be a consumer, stay aware, have heroes, follow them, but make your own work. Have strength and confidence in yourself.
One last note. Everyone is welcome at BSC, you don’t have to come with any art knowledge or showy vocabulary. It is an educational, inclusive and judgment free zone. After all, Contemporary Art is being created by people who live amongst us today, they share your concerns. Be inquisitive, come and simply be.
Blue Star Contemporary is open:
Thursdays 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Fridays-Sundays 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
First Fridays 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Be sure to visit their exhibitions page for details regarding opening and closing dates of shows.
$5 – General Admission
$3 – Seniors (65+), B-Cycle Members, and King William Association members
Free – Blue Star Members, Military and Veterans, Educators, and Students with ID
Free – Thursdays after 4:00 p.m. and all day First Thursday and First Friday.
In Collaboration with The Social Agency
[Photos courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary, San Antonio Area Foundation, Magical Realism Studio]