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Culture change due at Artpark under new executive director

Artpark’s new executive director wants a fresh and daring culture at the summertime venue – but acknowledges that it will take time.

“There is going to be a culture change, but it is going to be a slow process,” said Sonia Kozlova Clark, whose hiring was announced Monday. “You are not suddenly going to see a new Artpark this summer.”

So the concert lineups of recent years, tending to feature bands that reached their peak popularity decades ago, won’t disappear.

“They are very successful for a reason, and I respect it. I hope we will see Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ringo Starr – I want them all back, definitely,” Clark said. “But I think there are ways for this concert series to develop further.”

Clark said she believes that Artpark can grow from a $5 million organization to a $20 million one.

She envisions a cutting-edge festival on the order of California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which draws 150,000 to 200,000 annually. At the same time, she believes that the main stage theater can be supplemented with small, black-box theater presentations.

Clark also wants to attract a new generation of visual, musical and performing artists.

“We could hold a music festival joined by some kind of vision, possibly around the environment or energy, because we are in a place where nature is celebrated and represented in such a big way,” Clark said. “I would like to find artists who have something to say in addition to who they are as artists.”

Clark, who has been working in New York City, said she hopes to involve the University at Buffalo, which she noted has “one of the most recognized music composition programs in the world.”

“It is so exciting to be here,” she said. “I think it is one of the most exciting opportunities an arts manager can ever get in a lifetime.

“I have never encountered anything like this. Anyone from my circles whom I tell about Artpark sees this as an extraordinary and unique destination, with just mind-boggling opportunities.”

Clark faces challenges. One of the bigger ones is filling the main stage in the summer. Last year, it was used only 41 percent of the time.

“There are creative ways to do something just on the stage, like a black box; to have homegrown productions that can introduce new works, and bring groups from the outside,” said Clark, who sees opportunities for Artpark’s fundraising.

“The majority of all big art centers operate on a very complex fundraising system, which involves individual, corporate, institutional foundations, special events, private foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts,” she said. “There are so many resources, and all we have to do is tap into them.”

Born in Moscow, Clark comes to the 172-acre state park in Lewiston with an international background in theatrical production, management and administration.

Clark, 42, has served as managing director at Urban Stages Theater in New York and executive producer for Stage Entertainment in Moscow.

She was general manager of U.S. and European tours for Meredith Monk, a composer, performer and choreographer who received the National Medal of Arts.

Clark earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in producing and theater from Columbia University School of the Arts. She also has an interest in street theater, carnivals and celebrations. She apprenticed with Slava Polunin, a Russian performance artist and clown.

Her company, Unicycle Productions, has brought interactive events and celebrations to a number of festivals, including the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn and the Prague Quadrennial.

Clark was most recently a partner at The GAAP Bookings, an international management and booking agency, where she worked on expanding the company’s portfolio in commercial touring exhibitions.

Artpark, when founded in 1974, “had an almost utopian opportunity” of being funded entirely by New York State, she said.

Referring to artists, she said, “You have to trust that their leap will lead us somewhere wonderful. That was at the core of what Artpark was about when it was originally established.”

Clark hopes to help artists reach their full potential. She is aware that her ideas are a departure from the Artpark of recent years, but she has the backing to introduce big changes.

“The fact I am here is an indication the organization wants to move in a new direction,” she said.

“By joining our creative minds, we can grow a vibrant community sustainable by our unquenchable curiosity, the sense of wonder and the need for life-enriching experiences,” she said.

Artpark Chairman John Camp welcomed Clark.

“We are delighted to welcome Sonia to the Artpark family to continue our tradition of diverse programming for Western New York and Southern Ontario audiences,” he said in a statement.

“Her significant experience presents a unique opportunity to expand our offerings with an international flavor, which further enriches Artpark and Lewiston as a destination equal to our other cultural assets on the Niagara Frontier.”

Artpark & Co. programs the Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park in a licensed partnership with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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