The Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts has a new Managing Director, and that person is me! My name is Brady Plunger. I began at MCA on January 10 and have been busy getting to know the staff and faculty, our partners at Saint Mary’s University, and some of Winona’s brilliant arts, cultural, and business leaders. I have been humbled by the warm welcomes I’ve received from my colleagues and folks in every corner of the community, and especially from MCA’s students and families.
Let me tell you a little more about myself because, let’s be honest, Winona is a pretty tight knit community and when a new person comes in folks are going to have questions! I’m going to fill the rest of this blog post with my answers to some of the questions that have been put to me as I’ve been meeting and greeting folks around town.
What is your connection to Winona?
My link to this area began when my parents moved here in 2012 as my dad took the helm at Midwest Metal Products, a locally owned steel foundry on the East End (think the VERY end of Broadway). As I finished college in New Orleans and went on to graduate school in Austin (TX), I frequented Winona for holidays and summer breaks. Then, after I finished my Masters I did a stint on the sales floor at Winona’s Target store before landing my first full-time art museum role. You could say I’ve seen the community from many vantage points!
What is your background?
My academic training is actually in art history and museum studies. I have a BA from Tulane University and an MA and certificate in museum studies from the University of Texas at Austin. After I finished my education, I pivoted into art museum outreach and administration. I came to Winona from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I was Assistant Director for Education. You can read more about my professional background on my LinkedIn.
Okay, so how does art history and museum work relate to MCA?
My art history education gave me an arsenal of analytical tools and a historical grounding in visual and performing arts. My museum work was in a big way a practical application of that knowledge—it was all about problem solving ways to break down barriers to participation and make people aware of all the good that arts can do for communities and individuals. My museum work overlaps nicely onto what I do at the conservatory—in both scenarios I manage people, projects, and budgets, and steward relationships, all with the end goal of building bridges between communities and the arts.
What is your vision for MCA?
I love answering this question because I think my answer is almost a non-answer—very frustrating in a culture where we expect instant answers on everything. I don’t have a fleshed-out vision yet, I am only one month in! Right now I am devoting most of my energy to listening and learning. I have started to make some decisions because, well, we can’t function day-to-day if all I do is ponder big ideas (and believe me, I do love to ponder big ideas!). In the big picture though I see myself as a steward and guide for MCA. We’re about to turn 50, and I am well aware that this place has a storied past and will have a bright future. In short: MCA is bigger than me and any vision I might conjure. This is such a special place. I am constantly reminded of that by the passion and dedication that I see in our staff and faculty, and most of all in the community. Yes, some glimmers of a vision are starting to form, but they’re barely visible yet. What I will promise now is that MCA will stay committed to artistry, excellence, creativity, and community through any changes that come for the organization.
The American painter Max Weber (who was also an accomplished singer and musician) said that “Art comes from social contacts. Impressions constantly seep in, and times dazzle you with their brilliance.” This quote gets to the heart of the magic of MCA—the air here crackles and pops with artistic energy and is amplified by our tight sense of community. We know each other, we trust each other, and because of that foundation we dazzle in any discipline from dance and music to theatre and visual art.
Let me close with a phrase you’ll quickly tire of hearing from me—Onward and Upward!