Friday, January 27, 2012

Cecelia Scott: A remembrance

Cecelia (aka “Ce”) Scott — one of the founders of McColl Center for Visual Art and creative director at both McColl and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture — made news last November after she chose to exit her posts at both institutions (for as yet unrevealed reasons). Her last curatorial work — the exhibition “Converge” by artists Quisqueya Henriquez and Sonya Clark — opens tonight at McColl. The following piece is a reflection of her impact by noted artist, educator and friend Bill Gaskins.

 Ce Scott, photographed in front of a piece by artist Thu Kim Vu. (Photo by Thu Kim Vu.)

Most visual arts organizations born in the 20th century are faced with 21st century questions concerning the relevance of art, artists, and arts centers in a time of national, economic, and cultural uncertainty.

With that said, the recent departure of Cecelia Scott from her position as creative director from McColl Center for Visual Art prompted some personal reflections on the person behind the role that few people had proximity to. Much more than a person has left the center of contemporary art in the city of Charlotte — a majestic legacy departed with her.

My association with Ceceila Scott began in 1995 during her distinguished tenure as a graduate student at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. She was entering the Hoffburger School of Painting at the Institute one year after I graduated from there and commuted each week from Baltimore to teach at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Presently, I am a professor in Art, Media and Technology and Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

Since our first meeting, I have been a witness to Cecelia’s growth and development as an artist and an administrator at the McColl Center, as architect of its nationally and internationally noted artist residency program.

Through years of conversations with Cecelia over a variety of issues and ideas related to her duties at McColl and in art in general, I have always been impressed by how inclusive and social her vision is within an arts culture that can become hermetic and exclusive. She is in many ways a practical visionary through how she works effectively with the human and material resources available to her, while at the same time asking: “What is the next level of growth, and how do we get there?”
Aside from being a forward-thinking arts administrator at McColl, Cecelia was also a thoughtful curator who constantly asked provocative questions that sought to challenge the artist — and the audience.

And she amassed a record of exhibitions that have showcased a broad range of art makers from around the world in doing so. In the midst of this intense level of activity, Cecelia maintained her own life as an artist whose work ranges from works-on-paper, mixed media, performance, and the culinary arts.
I know few people who can speak and comprehend as many languages of artistic expression as effectively as Cecelia. Her vocabulary and skills have greatly enabled her dialogues with a broad range of people both in and out of the visual arts.

Most significantly Cecelia possesses an engaging personal and professional carriage, bearing, and integrity that enabled her to build coalitions across a broad spectrum of public and private constituencies that greatly served the Center in its development efforts, and enabled the center to grow and expand its range of activities and audiences.

I was an artist-in-residence at McColl in the summer of 2008. During that same period, McColl President and CEO Susanne Fetscher was away on personal leave until October 2008. The absence of the executive director meant that the workload on the administrative staff significantly increased. For three months I had a view of Cecelia on a day-to-day basis in her role at McColl.

Aside from managing her responsibilities as director of residencies and exhibitions, she was always thinking holistically about the Center — locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, in the long and short range, and at the micro and macro level — with an uncommon level of detail and scope.

Cecelia was always in the vicinity of the heavy lifting and problem solving that makes McColl Center for Visual Art one of the best residency programs and visual arts centers in the country. No task ever seemed to be above or below her. There are few people in this business that work better with and harder for artists and the their audiences than Cecelia Scott. I left McColl much better for the time I spent in the space she cultivated.

In my view, what she did with the greatest distinction at the McColl Center was raise trenchant questions of both producers, patrons, and public spectators of art that took the form of amazing dialogues, exhibitions, public programming, short and long-range strategic planning and development strategies.

Having observed her management and leadership style from a distance as well as day-to-day, I can say that the departure of Cecelia Scott from the McColl Center will not only leave a huge void both locally and regionally, but also nationally and internationally as well.

What the city will miss will be her challenging Socratic facility, her passion for working with artists, her social and interpersonal assets, her curatorial vision and experience as well as her interactions with trustees, staff, administrators, artists, the community at large and her wonderful sense of humility, humor, generosity of spirit and intellect in the service of the Center.

What must also be said is that it was the vision and wisdom of McColl President Susanne Fetscher who hired Cecelia as a founding staff member of the former Tryon Center for Visual Art as education and outreach program director and for the role of creative director at McColl Center. I have no doubt that Susanne’s wisdom will serve her in finding someone to fill the position formerly held by Cecelia.
Likewise, I have no doubt about Cecelia’s future as a leader and change agent in the art world. With her departure from the McColl Center, however, I doubt that anyone will ever replace her and the contribution she made to the quality of art and life in Charlotte.

Consequently, I have serious concerns about the future of contemporary art in the Queen City.

Bill Gaskins,
New York City

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