Scholar. Fundraiser. Ambassador. These are among the many roles Amada Cruz fills as Director of the Phoenix Art Museum. A highly respected arts professional, Cruz’s diverse experience, extensive background, knowledge and innovative spirit are already making a positive impact at the museum and on the local community.
Earlier this year, as Cruz succeeded longtime director James K. Ballinger, she was reminded time and again that she had some big shoes to fill. That struck a chord with Cruz and it reminded her of a famous quote from former Texas governor Ann Richards: “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
Quipped Cruz, “After all, true authenticity sometimes requires misbehaving — and dancing in your own shoes.”
Recently, Cruz was the featured keynote speaker at the Chamber’s Professional Women’s Alliance luncheon, where she provided insight into the world of art and museums while inspiring the crowd to be authentic and confident and to find their voice.
Cruz’s passion and enthusiasm for art shined through as she talked of nurturing artists, drawing millennials to the arts and the changing demographics of art museum audiences. She also touched on initiatives and strategies to continue the museum’s forward progress, such as the Latino art collections that are unique to the Phoenix Art Museum.
Cruz is equally enthusiastic about the upcoming exhibits that museum visitors can expect to see in the near future, including a traveling exhibit of Michelangelo’s drawings – never-before seen in the United States – in January 2016.
The Cuban-born Cruz began her career as a curatorial Intern at Guggenheim Museum in New York and quickly demonstrated an entrepreneurial and creative approach to museum leadership. After the Guggenheim, Cruz worked at the Lannan Museum in Florida, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York. Prior to her new role at the Phoenix Art Museum, Cruz was the executive director at Artpace, a non-profit art gallery in San Antonio.
“Art is such a tremendous value to the community. Creativity is the key to everything,” said Cruz. “There’s always something going on, whether it’s a social function, community benefit, a new exhibit or installation or a musical event. And best of all, it’s free on Wednesdays and on First Fridays.”
She added, “You’re never too old for the museum.”
Cruz also made the time to answer a few questions after her insightful presentation at the Professional Women’s Alliance luncheon.
1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
I’ve had a lot of mentors. But there’s an artist I was very fortunate to know who stands out as one of the most influential people for me. I was very fortunate to work and collaborate with Cuban-born American artist Félix González-Torres at the Guggenheim Museum. Known for his quiet, minimal installations and sculptures, he had a tremendous level of excellence that he inspired in others and always encouraged me to do my best.
2. What’s your favorite piece of art currently at the Phoenix Art Museum?
The Fireflies installation by internationally renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It’s a dark room with small infinity lights. The darkness and twinkly lights really make it a delightful light show, yet simple, and continues to be a visitor favorite. It’s participatory, so kids really love it. It’s quickly become the single most popular work at the museum.
Bringing a very creative and entrepreneurial approach to her leadership at the Phoenix Art Museum, Cruz continues to play to her strengths, leading the museum to the next level of distinction with a fresh perspective and a multitude of new ideas, and of course, dancing in her own shoes.