Catherine Anchin.
Credit: SJA, courtesy of Catherine Anchin

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This week, the Arlington Arts Center welcomes Catherine Anchin as the center’s executive director. Anchin succeeds Holly Koons, who left the center in October of 2020 to become director of the new Christopher Newport University Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia. For the past nine years, Anchin has worked at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, first as a development officer and then as an assistant (and later associate) director for advancement and external affairs. Prior to her work at the Museum of African Art, Anchin worked at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. City Paper Zoomed with Anchin to learn about her past experiences, obstacles she foresees, and her goals for the center.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Washington City Paper: Tell me a little bit about yourself—however you want to interpret that question. 

Catherine Anchin: I love art and I’ve always loved it and I have long been a fan of AAC as a resident in Arlington. I’ve really committed my background and my professional career to embracing the arts and arts fundraising through a museum lens. I’d always been drawn to creative pursuits, and I love that expression of creativity for everyone, and I think it’s something that really connects all of us.

WCP: How has your prior experience influenced your perception of art?

CA:  When you look at all of those museums [that I’ve worked at] combined, the thing that links them is contemporary art. The experiences I’ve had professionally have really opened my eyes to the power of art in how it can transform not only an individual, but a community. One of my personal passions is really helping people to understand that everybody’s creative and there are so many benefits to being creative. I want to make sure that the AAC is warm and accessible and that everybody knows that they have the power of creativity within them. I think the whole goal of AAC is to really connect the community with artists and art. They’ve done such a tremendous job with that already so I kind of feel like I got my dream job. 

WCP: Why did you choose this job?

CA: I wanted to get more involved in the community and I’ve long been a fan of AAC. When I saw the search, I was immediately attracted to it. I live near it. I love contemporary art. I really love supporting artists. I want artists to feel like they have a champion and I love connecting people who maybe are intimidated by the arts or enthusiasts to opportunities. There’s so much going on in AAC already so I’m really excited to build upon that.

WCP: What would you describe your leadership style as?

CA: I’d say I’m really empathetic and creative. But I also really love people and I think it’s going to be so fun to get to know not only the arts community, but the people who want to come see art. There’s such a great energy about people who love art that you can get really excited. So much of pursuing creativity as a personal passion is having that moment of inspiration and that’s something that AAC does so well—creating inspiring moments for people.

WCP: This is a huge transition for the arts right now, after a year of kind of everything on demand, things are getting back in person. What obstacles do you foresee in getting people to come to AAC?

CA: All the arts organizations have struggled this past year with decreasing revenue and it’s going to be really important for people to understand how financially supporting the arts benefits not only them and the organization, but also the broader community and the sector.

So that’s going to be the first hurdle. The second one is just making sure that people feel safe. Post-COVID, we want to make sure that when people are coming into the center, they’re having the great, wonderful experience, in a safe way. I think people are eager to get back into the community and back into art spaces and just see new things and have some of that socially distanced conversation with an artist in person. I think some people are pretty zoomed out and so hopefully we can start to fill gaps. 

WCP: What goals do you have for the center?

CA: I definitely want to create opportunities to support the artists and make connections for them, give them opportunities to show their work and demonstrate to the community the power of art. For the community, I really want to make sure that they’re seeing new stuff. You want to show cutting edge, you want to show the stuff that’s happening regionally and we’re really well poised for that. I think the 50th anniversary in 2024 is going to be a tremendous opportunity for us to really showcase not only the past, but where AAC is going in the future and I think the future is incredibly bright. 

WCP: Speaking of the past and future, AAC has done some interesting work, along with the waterfront to reckon with Virginia’s past [notably through Lynda Barry’s “Passage,” which the Post called “a testament to the national reckoning over race and oppression”]. How are you going to follow up and make sure [anti-racism] commitments are seen through?

CA: So the board has a working group for diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, which is a great step forward. When your stakeholders are committed to the cause, it’s a natural progression. We are eager to show artists of color. We are eager to show diversity across discipline too. Diversity is such a broad term so there’s so much you can do. I’m coming to this after working in the African art sector for the last nine years and so I’ve been really fortunate to see some of the most powerful art in the world, and I’d love to bring that to Arlington too.

WCP: Is there anything else that you think is important to highlight?

CA: It’s really important for people to come see these two shows, if they feel safe and comfortable to get back into a gallery space. Our summer camps are actually really phenomenal arts experience for kids ages 5 to 18, so I highly recommend those to parents and teens. 

Another great thing about AAC that sets it apart is its artist in residence program. Having these artists who are in the space, working and collaborating together is a great sort of incubator for people to test out new ideas and I love this concept of testing out ideas because you don’t know how far you go until you’re going to stretch yourself.

There’s also so many opportunities for AAC to collaborate in the community as well. The county is doing a fantastic job with public art and the cultural development team and there’s just a great energy for arts right now in Arlington.