Elevator Chat with new Allegany County Arts Council Executive Director Chrisopher Sloan
In June, Christopher Sloan was named the new executive director of the Allegany Arts Council, replacing longtime executive director Andy Vick. A Cumberland resident since 2010, he is a former chief art director of National Geographic and cofounded a media and exhibitions company, Science Visualization, which is based in the city. We chatted with Chris earlier this month when he visited the MSAC for the annual meeting of the County Arts Agencies of Maryland (CAAM).July 02, 2014Arts Across Maryland
MSAC: So, tell us about yourself. CS: Well, I’ve been involved in art and science in one way or another all my life. But my career as an art director led me toward commissioning art from others, rather than depending on my own art for a living. After working at a string of smaller circulation magazines, I started at National Geographic in 1992. That was a dream job for me since it brought together my interests in art and science. I was working in print, however, and my interests in other media and in teaching art led me to leave National Geographic in 2010 and start a company with my wife, who was also interested in visualizing science. I also started teaching online at the Art Academy University in San Francisco at that time. That’s all been great, but this year we reached a point where my wife could take over the business and I could move on to other things. The job at the Allegany Arts Council was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
MSAC: How does your background as an artist shape your perspective as a leader?
CS: I would answer that three ways. First, as an artist, I feel an affinity for other artists. I know how they think and feel and am sympathetic to their perspectives. I speak their language. Second, as an art director, I feel I evolved a fine-tuned aesthetic and appreciation for the inspiration and craft of art. So perhaps I can inspire us all to reach for a higher bar. Third, I know that my experience as a manager of art and artists helped me appreciate many complexities of art and working with artists I may not have encountered otherwise. I think this has prepared me well for working in an arts council environment where every day something or someone new comes through the door. All this leaves me feeling very positive about the arts community and full of optimism about what can be achieved.
MSAC: As new director of Allegany Arts Council, what excites you about the area?
CS: What’s not to be excited about? This place is exploding with art and people that appreciate art. The recession hit us hard out here, but the arts community survived and is raring to go. I see nothing but great potential out here for the arts. If I were a young artist or performer living elsewhere, I would move to Allegany County.
MSAC: Allegany County is widely known as a nature-lover’s paradise. But it’s also an arts destination. How are the arts in Allegany County positioned to drive tourism and business growth?
Ah, this is the problem. Allegany and Garrett counties are known for the great outdoors. Great hiking, camping, kayaking, and all that. That’s here for sure. But there’s so much more. You wouldn’t believe the number of arts activities that take place out here. There’s street music, art openings, plays, and readings happening all the time. And guess what...it’s good! There’s also important history, steam trains, rivers and canals, and a bike path that goes from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh. This is a secret we want to get out of the bag. It’s not just about nature out here. It’s a great place to enjoy nature AND the arts. The is the perfect palce to go kayaking during the day and then relax to some outdoor music, an art opening, and a glass of wine in the evening. Everyone in Allegany County is working together to get this message across because we know that tourism is one of the keys to a healthy economy in our area.
MSAC: There are 22 Arts & Entertainment (A&E) Districts in Maryland and two—Cumberland and Frostburg—are in Allegany County. How are these cities artistically distinct?
CS: That’s an interesting question. The main difference, I suppose, is that Frostburg is home to Frostburg State University, which has a great arts program. So it has a unique blend of a traditional “Main Street” arts experience with what the university brings to the table, which is a lot. But Frostburg is only a 10 minute drive from Cumberland and to tell the truth, we don’t concentrate on artistic differences. In fact, we are intent on working closely together to make each community a successful A&E District. For example, the Allegany Arts Council just helped Frostburg complete a Maryland State Arts Council Public Arts grant project for a sculpture along the bike path at Frostburg. And several arts faculty from Frostburg State University sit on the Allegany County Arts Council board. We’re all in this together.
MSAC: Tell us about some of your ideas to build on the past success of the Allegany Arts Council. What does the future hold?
CS: As your question implies, my predecessor at the Allegany Arts Council, as well as the board and staff, have done an incredible job building a firm base for the arts in our region. So, where do we go from here?
First, we’ll be expanding our outreach to children and students. We already have a very popular mobile arts education platform called the ArtsBus. In the near future, we plan to add a “STEAM Bus.” We already have the bus. We will be starting a study soon to see what sort of programming we should do and what computers, 3D printers, and other technology we should put on the bus to provide the best experience.
Second, we’ll keep working to make our region a place where artists, both established and emerging, want to come to live and work. We already have a number of incentives in place. Some new things we’re actively considering include offering residencies and live/work spaces.
Third, we’ll be working with community partners to find more ways to use the arts as an engine for economic growth. This means continuing to grow this area as an arts destination that draws more and more tourists and people that want to live and work in an arts-friendly region. We’re deep into creative placemaking out here. We’re holding a Creative Placemaking Summit with Ann Markusen and Ann Gadwa Nicodemus out here in September.
We’ve got a lot of energy out here and were just getting started. It’s well worth the drive over the mountains to check out what’s happening out here.