25 candidates considered

New Art Sheriff In Town: Next DiverseWorks leader plans to shake things to the cutting edge

New Art Sheriff In Town: Next DiverseWorks leader plans to shake things to the cutting edge

News_Elizabeth Dunbar_DiverseWorks_executive director
Elizabeth Dunbar, the new executive director of DiverseWorks ArtSpace Photo by Celesta Danger
News_William Betts
William Betts, interim director Photo by Fulton Davenport: PWL Studio
News_Elizabeth Dunbar_DiverseWorks_executive director
News_William Betts
News_DiverseWorks_exterior

Alternative art presenter DiverseWorks Artspace has selected a new leader. Elizabeth Dunbar, who most recently served as associate director and curator at Austin's Arthouse, will be taking over the office from interim executive director, board member and painter William Betts.

Nonprofit executive director searches are nothing to be taken lightly and include months, if not years, of careful consideration. 

"Choosing an executive director has been an interesting experience," Kellye Sanford, board president and chair of the search committee, tells CultureMap. "We looked at 25 local and national candidates from visual arts and administrative backgrounds mostly associated with museums and galleries."

"It will take some time to accomplish these big goals," Dunbar says.

It was important for the board to find someone with a sound administrative background and solid business sense that could lead the organization from a developmental and financial perspective, but someone who also had artistic sensibilities aligned with the foundation of the nonprofit.

And in this day and age, that's not something anyone can do.

"[Dunbar] had that business niche but also an innate perspective, desire and interest in artistic risk taking," Sanford says. "Finding those qualities and experience doing that together made her a front runner early on."

When Arthouse expanded its physical structure, Dunbar was actively involved. With a move in DiverseWorks future with the possible building of the Independent Arts Collaborative that could house it and other arts organizations, her experience will be invaluable.

In addition to 20 years curating, programming and managing at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Dunbar has been involved in projects with artists Liz Glynn, Fritz Haeg, Oliver Herring, Graham Hudson, Sheila Pepe, Dario Robleto, Florian Slotawa and Matt Stokes. She has worked alongside Houston artists and has family just outside of the city.

Dunbar has identified three objectives to further the mission of DiverseWorks: To improve financial backing from the local community and outside Houston, to nurture collaborations with other organizations and to increase the visibility of programming to the point where the nonprofit becomes an art destination.

 "I think we can expect to see a new level of intelligent, thought provoking multidisciplinary works of all types," Sanford says.

"It will take some time to accomplish these big goals," Dunbar says. "The idea of collaborations with arts and non-arts organizations, not only local but nationally, is a great way to reach out beyond art audiences in strategic ways.

"In terms of donors and community involvement, the more people get involved, the more people want to get involved. It's an exponential method to build support."

One of Dunbar's ambitions is to see that performing and visual arts become more intertwined in terms of programming. She is particularly interested in working with artists that delve in the intersection of the two genres.

Though some organizations in Houston dabble in multi-layered art, she sees the future of DiverseWorks as an organization dedicated to nurturing that approach.

"I think we can expect to see a new level of intelligent, thought provoking multidisciplinary works of all types," Sanford says. "We will see projects that engage the fuller diversity of our community, and reflect the energy and enthusiasm for the new, the cutting edge, that is the city of Houston."

DiverseWorks made some changes to its organizational structure when co-executive director Diane Barber stepped down in September to pursue other curatorial projects. Most recently, she's been involved with G Gallery in The Heights.

Sixto Wagan, her counterpart, became artistic director when Betts took over the office pro tem in an effort to re-define how it best to serve DiverseWorks' constituents.