Pulitzer Reopening Sneak Peek: Four Questions for New Director Cara Starke

 In Culture

Cara Starke, a MOMA and Creative Time veteran, was named the Pulitzer Art Foundation’s new director last week, succeeding current Director Kristina Van Dyke. Although she won’t begin until July, her leadership will be key in the Pulitzer’s programming and direction going forward. If anything speaks to her wizardry with presenting engaging art to the public, it’s her coordination of Kara Walker’s crazy-popular “A Subtlety,” at Brooklyn’s iconic (and decommissioned) Domino Sugar Factory last spring, which drew 140,000 visitors.

Of course we couldn’t wait to meet her, so we caught up with her as she finishes her tenure at Creative Time in NYC and gears up for a landscape-harmonized May installation in Central Park.

Cara Starke, courtesy of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

Cara Starke, courtesy of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

ALIVE: Congratulations on your appointment! This is great timing for you to come into the Pulitzer—but it’s got to be a whirlwind.
Starke: I feel very lucky to start just after the reopening … I get to come in and work with an incredible team and incredible building.

How are you feeling about your July start?
You’re always thinking about the programming of an institution both with what’s immediately out and what’s coming down the line. I actually have a show at Creative Time through May: There are eight artists commissioned, so it’s important for me to open the exhibition and keep working and stay for as much of it as possible. So that’s why the timing is what is.

“Drifting in Daylight” [is the upcoming work]. The Central Park Conservancy invited Creative Time to realize this exhibition just over a year ago. We’re primarily commissioning new work, and it takes place for six weeks in the north end of Central Park. It’s an amazing show, highly performative, and it’s meant to be in harmony with the landscape. We envision the park as a work of art—you have to be very respectful of that. This is a palce that gets millions of visitors a year—how do we create a landscape in harmony with nature and how people use it today? We very much designed with that in mind.

There’s artwork by Spencer Finch commissioned by the Pulitzer in a collaboration with CAM [Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis]. It’s a nice tie-in. It’s called “St. Louis Sunset.” So we’re remaking that piece in the form of a solar-powered ice-cream truck and ice cream— instead of the St. Louis sunset, we’ll serve the colors of the New York sunset.

That’s an interesting reflection of—or hint at—your transition.
It’s an amazing piece.

Jeffrey Uslip at CAM also came to us recently from Booklyn. Not that we’re complaining, but what’s with the exodus? First and foremost, [what drew me here was] the Pulitzer. I really believe in the mission. It’s an extraordinary space. To work there and work with the team was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I’m moving with my husband and our daughter, and we love the idea of moving to St. Louis.

I seem to get this question a lot. I’ve lived in New York; I’ve lived on the West Coast; I’ve lived in Massachusetts, and it [St. Louis] seems like an interesting city, and I’m excited for what’s to come. New York is no longer the place it was once was in terms of supporting the artist community. Of course it still does, but there are other communities that create affordable spaces for artists to work.

At Creative Time, your work was mainly—if not exclusively—in the field of commissioning public art. Now you’re involved with public art in a different way: art for the public. Creative Time has a similar vision. It’s an artist-centric organization and believes that artists have important voice in society, and that public spaces are spaces for free and democratic use and a place for artists to voice that opinion. The work at Creative Time is very much guided by artistry and that vision—it’s not a public art organization; we never do sculpture. The most recent iconic work is Kara Walker and “Subtlety” at the Domino Sugar Factory. It was a space and an experience, and it promoted so much discussion and dialogue.

Do you have a pet project you’re dying to see come to fruition at the Pulitzer? Of course I have tons of ideas but I’m also a real believer in collaboration, so I come in with that spirit in mind. Plus, I need to learn the space and the community and the audiences and the team, and that’s important. When you commission you have to be so sensitive to the spaces you’re entering into: the politics of space, the artists. To collaborate and to realize things of the nature I’ve been working in, you really have to be sensitive to all the politics you’re entering into and then understanding what makes for a great show, a great experience.

What STL “thing” are you most looking forward to?
I’m excited to take my daughter to the botanical gardens. I’m working at a park right now, so parks have great meaning for me, but even more so now that I have a little person.


For more Pulitzer reopening coverage, check out our overview, Calder preview and Sandback preview, then be sure to check out the institution itself tomorrow.

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