After meeting Sean FitzGibbons, recently appointed director of Centenary’s Meadows Museum, at Great Raft Brewing, I felt that this was the first breath of fresh air for Shreveport’s arts community in years. Sean, imported from San Antonio, TX, delivers grounded optimism about the Meadows role in the community and at Centenary.
The son of a professional artist, Bill FitzGibbons, Sean has been immersed in the art world since he was young. “When I was in middle school my Dad stuck me in a plane wing with coal tar and I waterproofed the inside because I was the only one who could fit. That’s the Daystar Archway in San Antonio. I grew up in arts studios and art galleries.” Sean attended University of Texas and Washington University in Saint Louis before returning to San Antonio where he became immersed in programming galleries and public art as the Mural Consult for the City of San Antonio.
Sean created “Second Saturdays” in response to “First Fridays,” a Red River Revel-esque San Antonio staple, from 2007 to 2012. “52 or so Saturdays in total” recalls Sean. “My Dad’s art studio was in the middle of Second Saturday. There were four arts studios and galleries in that area when we started. Now I think they have 5,000 people going through. But that’s ten years of consistently doing it. Being there, playing to an empty parking lot.” This D.I.Y. ethic and scene-building gives Sean a solid insight to how to bolster Shreveport artists, arts groups, and public engagement. By the end of his tenure programing Second Saturdays, they had “won Best Curator, Best Art Space, and that was from just saying yes to everyone.”
When Sean looked to move on to new adventures he had a singular mission in mind, which was to take his experience and build something new from the ground up. “I think that it’s a lot more satisfying career-wise to get in on the ground floor.” Centenary’s Meadows Museum was also ready to take a new step in its history. Professors Bruce Allen and Lisa Nicoletti had spent the past few years as co-directors of the Meadows, making strategic improvements to the museum by getting it reaccredited with The American Alliance of Museums, and improving the relationship of the museum with the students and faculty. Sean recognized that “Bruce and Lisa had taken the Meadows and all of a sudden turned it into something where everyone realized there was potential there. It went from a venue where everyone walks around and looks at artwork to this is something that can promote artwork and promote Shreveport and do some really great things.”
In a little over half a year Sean has taken the radical step of removing the gift shop from the museum and started programming with a sculpture installation from George Tobolowsky and Lost Stories, Found Images: Portraits of Jews in Wartime Amsterdam by Annemie Wolff. These exciting programs are only part of Sean’s charge at the Meadows Museum. Sean seeks to make sure that the Meadows serves as “the loudspeaker for artists” in our community. Starting out slowly, the Meadows has already hosted several local artist teaching classes. “Thom Johnson and Studio Highlands is so great,” begins Sean. “ He’s done two residencies at the Meadows, one for puppets and sci-fi props and one for stop-motion animation. Mandie from Agora was making pinch pots. Mike Torma is showing his figurative paintings and promoting his group that does figurative paintings every Wednesday.”
So what role does the Meadows have in our community? For artists, Sean offers the space, time, a connection to students, and invites local artists “ to come to me with an established program provided by them that we can give to the public.” For Studio Highland that takes the form of workshopping projects, for Mike Torma it promotes his instructive class.
For Centenary students, Sean is instructing Museum 400, where Centenary students can come in and be side by side with these artists and see what it takes to become a professional artist. Sean provides a great point of view for being an artist as a full-time career, “when I was in school they called it an “art practice” because, just like a doctor’s practice or a lawyer’s practice, you always need to think of it as a professional career. It’s something that you have to put theory, the time, the craft, into. It’s not just the time and effort into making art, but the time and effort in to the business side, the theory side, and the craft side.” Centenary students can look to learn these important lessons in the Museum Management Program, while assisting Sean enact his ambitious vision.
For the general public, Sean has but one simple plea “please come to the openings and the events!” Even though art openings are more of a formality for an art gallery, he wants to have events at the Meadows that aren’t just openings. “We have a poetry reading coming up, a literary event, workshops on Saturdays.” Saturday workshops are currently the Sustainability Series featuring upcycled arts and crafts for children of all ages and take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
Concluding our conversation, I see Sean as an ally in the promotion of new and positive artistic events in Shreveport, while recognizing the challenges ahead of us. “Where I came from (San Antonio) there was a lot of 20-30 year old people complaining that there was nothing to do in the beginning,” recalls Sean. “Then all of a sudden everyone realized that it’s not going to happen unless they make it happen. I think that that is one of the reasons that when I took my tour of Centenary I found that there was a small group of people already doing it. Minicine?, David Nelson, Katy Larsen, Heliopolis.”
I’ve recently joined as a Friend of the Meadows, and I hope that our readers also make the decision to support Sean and the Meadows.