Interview by Maitefa Angaza
As the new head of BRIC Arts Media, Kristina Newman-Scott valued listening and watching as useful tools during her first months there, allowing her natural curiosity to define her leadership style at the outset. Almost a year later, Newman-Scott is still observing while leading the team at BRIC in the assured and inspired manner that the BRIC board of directors expected when they hired her. But then, Newman-Scott was down with the mission before she moved her family from Connecticut.
The BRIC mission is in line with what Newman-Scott wanted to do, and has been doing, with her life for a long time – supporting art, artists and culture. Now she gets to do it in Brooklyn, which looms large in this arena, and where she’s one of very few Black women in the nation to head a major arts institution. Confident in facing the challenges ahead, yet humbled by the opportunity and responsibility, Newman-Scott is enjoying the exhilarating ride she’s taking with her BRIC team, and she wants Brooklyn lovers of art and culture to ride along.
Our Time Press: What kinds of things did you think you might initiate at BRIC?
Kristina Newman-Scott: “So, I think for me, it starts with understanding and curiosity. Right? So, of course, I have lots of ideas, but I always like to be more curious when I’m brand new to a community or a place. So, I can better understand how the community at BRIC works, how we do the work, how we connect with our audience, our artists and all of that.
I think that rooted in my approach is a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusivity in all that we do. I had that commitment as an artist, as a curator, a program director of arts organizations, and then as a leader in government for the arts in the city, and then state level.
One of the things that makes a successful leader is understanding what inspires your staff, how to support them and allow them to do work you know will benefit the community. So, the constant conversation is an extension of the wonderful ways they know people want to connect.”
OTP: I’ve been to the Youth Film Festival before. How has it been impacting the young people who participate?
KNS: Oh, it’s such a phenomenal experience! “Concrete Stories” is one of the few youth media festivals that’s completely, one hundred percent, organized and curated by the youth. They’re all under 21; they are juniors and seniors in high school!
OTP: Tell me a little about professional development with teachers. Which teachers are you working with and what is BRIC doing with them?
KNS: We are in around 40 public schools and we tend to work wi
th schools that do not have arts programming. Our teaching artists go into those schools and create a curriculum responsive to what teachers and students need. And that will vary from school to school.
OTP: BRIC art exhibitions often feature the unexpected. How do you find artists bringing something people are not seeing elsewhere?
KNS: We work with a lot of emerging and mid-career artists and our curators go to a lot of shows and studio visits. They want to make sure they’re out in the community hearing and learning. And obviously, Brooklyn artists are some of the most exciting artists in our world! We want to help them become the best version of themselves, give them time, space and resources.
OTP: How long has BRIC been going into neighborhoods with arts instruction, like the filmmaking classes at New Lots Library?
KNS: I’m not sure how long it’s been but we’re committed to bringing media resources to other parts of the borough. We’re making sure that if people can’t get to us here at BRIC House, then we will come to them. Using our mobile media lab and thru our partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library, that has been really amazing!
OTP: What did you bring with you from your experience in Connecticut that you were able to put to good use here?
KNS: I have over 20 years of experience working in the arts and cultural sector and I think that what I brought to Brooklyn with me is not only a true understanding of what artistic practice means – because I was a practicing artist and I worked in television and radio – but an understanding of how the arts impact communities. So [I brought] my ability to work with governmental partners, other nonprofits and community leaders to really collaborate in ways that would be the rising tide for Brooklyn. I think of the everyday person living in the community – the wellness that the arts bring and the joy that they bring.
OTP: Was there anything that was a little scary, despite your tools and your confidence?
KNS: It’s always intimidating moving to a new environment, especially when you’re moving your entire family! I have two young girls – a nine-year-old and a two-year-old, and a husband. It’s a total new way of living life. It’s exciting and wonderful, but I did not know what my own community, personally, would be in my new home. And I’m happy to report that Brooklyn has been so welcoming, and I have been fortunate to have the kind of relationships I have with my board members and my rock star team at BRIC!
OTP: Why is it important, beyond you as an individual, that you are a Black woman in this position?
KNS: We should be much farther along than we are, as it relates to diversity, not only in the arts but in other sectors. I definitely don’t want to be the only one, or one of a few. We have to diversify. I mean, if we can’t do it in the arts, where are we going to do it?!
It’s important for people to see it’s possible to be a woman of color and an immigrant in a leadership position in a place like Brooklyn. So, when I move on, it’s possible to imagine the person coming behind me to be, not just of color, but all of what is beautiful about the diversity amongst people from different abilities, to our LGBTQ and gender nonconforming, to socioeconomic background, to all of it.
OTP: And what about the Free Speech TV program?
KNS: We are blessed, in our busiest periods, to have up to 1,000 people a week coming to our Community Media Center to take part in classes, use our editing or studios, or to upload their content onto our channels. I see it as giving people the kind of skill sets that will diversify the workforce in media. I think it is one of the last places that has true public access – the authentic ability for people to tell their stories. It’s critically important and I think our commitment to that is one of the strongest parts of our work.
Overall, I just feel like I am in the right place at the right time and I’m incredibly excited about our future!