Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Five Questions with the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Description: audience members smiling Caption: Audiences enjoy the competition. Credit: James Kegley
Jean-Pierre Roy, A Wind Toward Off Dreams, 2010. Courtesy of RARE Gallery, New York and Jean-Pierre Roy

Mention contemporary art, and some people's eyes will immediately glaze over. Other people will huff that they "just don't get it." But at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia (CACV), modern art is made accessible for even the most skeptical of visitors. As the CACV's Director of Exhibitions and Education Ragan McManus points out, "It’s funny that people find the term 'contemporary' intimidating because it’s most closely connected to the world they are currently living in." We talked with McManus about how the museum makes art approachable, this summer's exhibitions, and the ways which art can change our understanding of the world.

NEA: In your opinion, what makes the CACV unique?

RAGAN MCMANUS: We are the only contemporary art museum in the Hampton Roads region and the only art museum in Virginia Beach. We have a visitor-centered educational philosophy which affords life-long learning opportunities through art appreciation. We are also unique in that we specifically connect the public with national and international contemporary artworks. Looking at contemporary art is important because it reflects our civilization at a given time. It allows us greater access to ourselves and our individual opinions, to others and their perspectives, and to help stimulate our social and cultural responsibility through active, conscientious critical thinking.

One other cool thing that folks might not know about us is that we have over 30 programs running at a given time with a staff of only 15. Our programming initiatives are on par with major institutions twice our size. We can do this because we are completely passionate and dedicated to our work as museum professionals.

NEA: What are your favorite pieces in the collection and why?

MCMANUS: Pieces in our collection are comprised of our annual Boardwalk Art Show (BWAS) “Best in Show." The collection gives a historic, chronological look at our BWAS since 1967. Because of that, all of the works are important in a sense. While our museum was initially founded upon the BWAS, the institution has grown over the decades in order to best accommodate our community and to expose national trends in contemporary art. Because of this, we are now dedicated to teaching and showcasing the significant art of our time.

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Kim Keever, Forest 83c, 2007. Courtesy of Kim Keever and Kinz+Tillou Fine Art

NEA: What are some of the exhibitions and events that visitors might experience this summer?

MCMANUS: This summer we are featuring the art of two New York City-based artists: Kim Keever and Jean-Pierre Roy. We are also showing the work of Sayaka Suzuki and she will host a Master Class in October. Our Family Fest days are always a blast and the next one is coming up on September 25.

NEA: Some people are instantly intimidated by the idea of modern or contemporary art. For such a person, how do you think a visit to CACV might prove surprising?

MCMANUS: Contemporary art is the product and reflection of the culture in which we live. It’s funny that people find the term “contemporary” intimidating because it’s most closely connected to the world they are currently living in. Some people have pre-conceived notions that they have to know what the artwork is about, but that’s not the case. The art is there for us to experience and to provoke questions. Most artists don’t have one solitary intention for making an art object. Most artists want us to determine new meaning and we do this by applying our own thoughts and feelings to what we see. Children who visit are much more receptive to exploring. As adults we forget how to play and imagine our worlds and the things within them.

Our museum encourages active participation. We have to look at art as if we are exploring newfound territory. By asking questions about what we see, we create deeper understanding while simultaneously developing our brain’s ability to think critically about an object or our surroundings. Hopefully this critical thinking will follow us outside museums and into the world around us.

It may be shocking for some people to know that there are no “right” answers and that the answers to most contemporary works come from within themselves.

NEA: What do you hope people take away from their experience at the museum?

MCMANUS: We hope that people will ask themselves questions about what they are seeing and engage with art objects. We hope that this experience will lead to greater appreciation about what a particular artist has shared with them and that people will come away not only with a new perspective for looking at contemporary art, but for viewing their contemporary world.

The Contemporary Art Center of Virginia
2200 Parks Avenue
Virginia Beach, Virginia 23451

Please visit the Blue Star Museums website for more information about the program and to find participating museums.

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