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Q and A with John Boyer

by Mark Peres

February 8,2009

John Boyer is president of the Andreas H. Bechtler Arts Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation in February 2008, John was the president and CEO of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. He previously served as the Executive Director of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. John taught architectural history and the history of photography at Trinity College. He is a graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in art history, and of Princeton University with a degree in art and architecture.

You are leading the start-up of the new Bechtler Art Museum. What is your charge? 

My charge is to establish the structural framework to launch and sustain the Bechtler Art Museum as a highly valued cultural institution. My job is to celebrate, analyze and put in larger historical perspective the strength of the Bechtler collection and tell the story of the Bechtlers as patrons. The scale of our ambition is to touch as many people as we can as well as we can. 

We project opening in early 2010. Right now we’re developing every aspect of the enterprise, including board and personnel, defining principal audiences, developing initial exhibits and programs, designing the museum store and thinking through what will be in it, selecting software for collections management, point-of-sale and fundraising, working with cultural colleagues on joint ticketing and joint programming, and developing our communications plan, including roll-out of our institutional identity.

What attracted to you to the opportunity? 

I was so impressed by the team who put this opportunity together. The ASC, Wachovia, the City of Charlotte, all of whom joined together to a make a remarkable and enviable statement in the creation of this cultural campus. One would have to work very hard to find a similar example across the country. The cultural campus and the museum set a very high standard, and is an example of the best of commerce and culture combining for the community at large. 

I was also taken by the leadership behind the launch. Andreas Bechtler is the most intelligent, modest and artistically engaged person I’ve ever met in my life. He is an extraordinary example of patronage. Among our board leadership, Cyndee Patterson, Bob Lilien, and Dorisa Flur are deeply experienced and brilliant people who have built a well oiled apparatus to launch the museum. 

The collection itself impressed me. Who wouldn’t want to show the world a stunning collection of mid-century European modernism that hasn’t been seen before? 

And there is also the building. Designed by Mario Botta, and local architects of record David Wagner and Mike Murray, the building is a beautiful, jewel-like temple to the best notions of 21st century modernism. 

The power of the story we are telling attracted me. The Bechtlers are true patrons, developing artists early in their career. Their accomplishments and passion should serve as an inspiration to this region.  

And finally, we were drawn to Charlotte and the quality of its people. Charlotteans are so warm and welcoming. The city has a unique character, offering a very happy balance between effectiveness and geniality.

What will we see? 

Visitors will see a wide range of mid-century modern art, including Miro, Picasso, Tinguely, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Niki de Sainte Phalle, Andy Warhol, Degas and many others. The majority of the works exhibited over the first 5 years will be the Bechtler collection itself. The collection is so large that only approximately 15% of the overall collection can be shown at any given moment. We plan to borrow selectively from European public and private collections to augment the presentation of our own collection.

What challenges are you facing? 

We are experiencing a quite unanticipated and comprehensive economic reversal tied to many regrettable fundamental economic assumptions, from global decoupling at one end to ambitious use of leverage at the other. Times like these are clearly a significant opportunity for institutional soul searching, for cultural institutions to reassess their reason for being and to balance prudence with ambition. 

Some things may have changed forever in finance, but not everything. Citizens and patrons will still support cultural institutions whose missions are worthy – those that serve the community by offering solace, joy, inquiry, self discovery, context and a meaningful and enduring sense of community. 

We will not begin to publically solicit funds until July when our new fiscal year begins. In the interim, we are doing all we can to support the ASC and their Cultural Facilities campaign.

What will the Bechtler Museum mean for the region?

The Bechtler will add to a growing cultural life in our region but also serve as a strong beacon for visitors from outside of the U.S. At its core, the institution’s mission is simple: to do all we can with this great collection to encourage and nurture a deeper appreciation of art. When we are successful in this, it helps us answer the most fundamental of questions: who are we, as individuals and as a community? What do we want out of our lives? How can we come to understand the nature of beauty, the mystery of creativity, and of the joyous and surprising revelation of artistic discovery? As ambitious as that may sound, anything less ambitious would be unworthy of the effort and investment that so many are making on behalf of this museum and its future.

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