by Natalie Wilson, Women of Substance Project Coordinator
Recently I was given the incredible opportunity to travel to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco to observe the visual installation and dance piece, A History by Bebe Miller Company (coming to the Women of Substance series on Tue, Feb 12 at 7:30 pm). From the moment I arrived on the campus, discovering Yerba Buena was such an inspiration. All of the staff that I met with are artists and curators in their own right, describing past projects and how YBCA helped to cultivate that talent. The organization as a whole serves as a cultural hub for the greater community, with outreach and education initiatives aimed at harnessing the collective talent and interests of the area. With three visual arts galleries, two video presentation spaces and two performing arts venues, YBCA showcases a wide breadth of contemporary art forms. The space itself is visually stunning. Large stained glass walls provide beautiful strokes of color in the lobby and on the artwork contained within it. Nestled within the Yerba Buena Community gardens, the YBCA looms large and colorful as a beacon of arts presentation.
YBCA is in a time of administrative transition. The new Director of Performing Arts, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, is constantly trying to find new ways to insert YBCA’s work into the community while simultaneously introducing himself to Yerba Buena family. The time with Bebe Miller Company was no exception. In bringing the work to the stage, Bamuthi Joseph wanted to create a captivating way for audiences to connect with the company. So he produced a video love letter to San Francisco from Bebe Miller. The two drove around the city and Miller told stories about her connection to the art of the city. This is just one of the ways that the new director is trying to inject the artist into the city and observe the ways that the city responds to the artist. It was impressive to see a way in which a touring artist could communicate so directly and intimately with the city they are visiting.
The performance staff at YBCA talked at length about how exciting this new approach to audience engagement was and how Bamuthi Joseph’s vision has created a groundswell of support for YBCA. Bamuthi Joseph engages staff to interact with the artists and to understand the art that is presented. These conversations made me so proud to be a part of the Northrop family. I realized that I was just as excited about the future of Northrop and the vision that I am so fortunate to work toward. Innovation and vision for the future are values that Northrop shares with this world class institution of the arts. We, like YBCA, believe that arts presenters have a responsibility to exist in a community, to do its work for the benefit of all. Northrop is in an exciting period of transition and change, and like YBCA, we are looking at ourselves as a hub of culture, a place where ideas and art intersect, and where conversations between artist and community are nurtured. I felt a connection to the YBCA staff in the excitement that surrounds working toward new vision, and that made me proud to be a part of the Northrop family.