By Joshua Maloni
Though she was hired last summer and has already met many community members, Sonia Kozlova Clark was officially announced Monday as Artpark & Company's new executive director. She replaces George Osborne, the man many credit with the park's resurgence and placement on "Best of" entertainment lists. He retired in October, but will remain on another season as a consultant.
Kozlova Clark, Moscow-born and Columbia University School of the Arts-trained, has 20 years of experience as a theatrical producer, manager and administrator. Her specialty has been in international productions, tours and festival programs.
She has extensive experience in development and finance, working for the New York City Opera, as managing director at Urban Stages in New York, executive producer for European conglomerate Stage Entertainment in Moscow, and general manager on U.S. and European tours for artist Meredith Monk.
"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," Artpark & Company Board Chairman John Camp said. "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."
Kozlova Clark sat down with NFP Monday to offer her thoughts on Lewiston's popular performing arts venue, which sits on more than 150 acres of state parkland.
"Right now, I think, having built the base - the financial stability with the concerts - we now have the opportunity to take it to the next level," she said. "I have the most enviable position that any arts manager can possibly imagine. It's very, very rare to enter into a situation like this one where the organization has great stability; it's got a great following; there's so much support from every end. Every person I talk to - from politicians, business, community members - everyone wants this organization to grow and succeed. And we all seem to be very much on the same page.
At the top of her to-do list is forming a stronger bond between Artpark and its artists - both paint and brush and those who rock and roll on stage. She also wants to fill the 2,500-seat Mainstage Theater with events while revisiting some of the arts-in-education goals the venue put forth upon its establishment more than 40 years ago.
"How do we connect outdoor/indoor? How do we play with the space itself? Can we flip it? Can we find different relationships between the stage and the artist, and just an experience that goes more naturally with the way we operate right now; the way we think?" Kozlova Clark said. "There's so much here for us to experience. The great thing is that what I see in this community is a lot of curiosity. Whenever I mention these new things, I often get a lot of questions and a lot of interest. ... It's really, really encouraging to see that."
She added, "I want us to be this community that dares; that thinks; that experiments; and just have that platform for progress. The role of the arts is to inspire; to push some buttons; but, ultimately, when you come here and you experience that 'A-ha' moment, no matter who you are in life, you go home, hopefully, that leads to maybe just a new realization that it's good to be here."
Joshua Maloni: You have quite an extensive background in the arts field. How did you hear about Artpark?
Sonia Kozlova Clark: The past few years ... I've been really hoping to either put together my own festival outdoors or pick up another existing festival. I've had many conversations with a whole lot of different opportunities, including Italy and New York City and all kinds of things. I just sort of decided that this was something I wanted to do, because I looked at all the things I've done, and I'm just burning to share all the amazing talent and art forms that I've had the luck and the opportunity to have experienced.
I just want to share it all. I was, like, "How can I bring this out?" And what really made sense for me was to run a festival where I can do that.
In the process of looking at what is there, what can I do, where can I make a difference, where is interesting, Artpark came up. And they were doing a national search. And I sent my ideas, and that's how it happened.
Kozlova Clark was recently a partner at the international management and booking agency GAAP Bookings, where she worked on expanding the company's portfolio in commercial touring exhibitions and managing tours. Her own company, Unicycle Productions LLC, brought interactive events and celebrations to the DUMBO Arts Festival, Figment NYC Festival and Prague Quadrennial. Kozlova Clark organized immersive experiences in New York and Los Angeles for Stage Entertainment Russia's creative press campaigns for musicals "The Little Mermaid," "Chicago" and "Singing in the Rain."
JM: You've been around here since last summer; you've had an opportunity to observe some of the things that they do, from the sidelines. What do you think about Artpark, in general, and what was your first impression of everything offered?
Kozlova Clark: The first impression - not just mine, but all my friends that I shared this with - everybody, on all levels; huge executives in New York City; everyone in Europe and other places that I tell this to - everybody goes, "Wow." Because Artpark, it presents such an absolutely unique and vast opportunity for so many different forms of art. And there's just so much that can happen here. It really is a spot that is unique - globally - not just in Western New York, and not just in the United States.
There's that sense of - it's almost a utopian world, in a way, that presents some really utopian opportunities to the artists. And that's what it was thought of in the first place when it was originally planned. That's kind of the thinking that went along with it, and for (decades) they had opportunities that none of the organizations - performing arts or arts organizations in this country - ever had. Or ever will have, probably, with the way that it was set up; that artists were, in fact, not objectified.
The Fairy House Festival at Artpark.
JM: Oftentimes when someone comes into a position like this it's because a predecessor was ineffective. It's not often someone retires (as Osborne did). It sounds like the thought process is to continue along with some of the things George did well, but to also boost up some of the other areas.
Kozlova Clark: Exactly. It's just an opportunity for expansion, or building upon what's already here. And what's already here is a very successful concert series that tapped into the public interest.
In terms of tinkering with it, we can grow it. We can make it more relevant. We can move it further into the future. We can find, maybe, a closer connection with the musicians themselves. Maybe we can grow into a unique destination by, perhaps, starting more - having more of a philosophy behind what we're doing, in terms of musically?
There's a lot of opportunities there. There's also opportunities to link that growth with what's available here for the rest of the arts in terms of developing land art or the environmental causes. So many artists now are concerned with ... where are we headed? What is our relationship with our planet; challenges that climate change and the environment present us with. ... Artists, naturally, are very much tapped into that.
JM: In addition to straight entertainment, is combining education with the arts something you're looking to do more of?
Kozlova Clark: Very simply put, yes, but entertainment is very important in making any experience a happy one; a joyful one. And that sense of wonder, that's what's very important for me to share with people. I want everybody who comes to Artpark to experience that (gasps) "A-ha" moment. And the rest sort of just follows.
It's my job to figure out what will deliver that kind of feeling here, because that's what I want to provide through all these different, various art forms. And education is part of that. To get the ideas through, you first need to cultivate that feeling.
First of all, give permission to yourself, and give the audience permission to themselves, to just come and experiment with ... something they don't know.
JM: In doing my research on you, the thing that impresses me the most is your interest in sustainability, and making this a venue that will thrive and appeal to more people for a very long time. While that's important, it's not necessarily flashy. Do you feel the need to come in here and do something big and flashy, or is it more important to ensure long-term success behind the scenes?
Kozlova Clark: I think both are very important. So, while I'm building something that probably would manifest itself five, seven, 10 years from now - I spent quite a bit of time, indeed, building that future; trying to think 20 years ahead - I also want this summer to be very entertaining, hot and cause all these sparkles (of creativity). I'm definitely bringing all kinds of very entertaining groups. ... I'm focusing on just delivering as much joy and sense of discovery and wonder as I can afford to, essentially.
What's important is that I want everybody to come in and want to stay here, and want to have a great experience with us this season. And start building that trust that whatever it is that I come up with next, you're just going to think, "All right, I'm going to give it a chance. I don't know what that is, but I'm going to trust that it's going to be OK (laughs)." That's my hope.
JM: Something that is brought up often in conversation is expanding Artpark's season and programming past the summer. Is that a long-term goal?
Kozlova Clark: Well, longer, absolutely, in sort of the far future. Yes. But, even before we think about expanding, at the moment, the theater at Artpark ... in the summer months - out of the summer days - the theater itself is only used 41 percent. ... So, my primary goal is how do I fill the summer days, and then we start thinking about expanding.
I would love to do a winter festival. Tanis (Winslow, director of visual arts and family programs) has great ideas for doing things in the winter. I would love to do things in the winter, as well. But, before we head in that direction, I really want to maximize and make sure we're actually busy all summer long with both outdoor and indoor.
One of the things I'm hoping to get through is to have more (of) not only our own productions, but touring productions to come here. We have this incredible facility. ... Theater artists and producers, directors, are starved for space. ... Here we are, sitting on this unbelievable stage, which is empty. My huge priority is to open it up as much as possible to artists all around. ...
We could provide huge opportunities to major, major Broadway productions to come and rehearse here. ... If I could succeed at that, we could be very busy - and very successful. ...
We could, without having to have another building even, we could have intimate theater at Artpark, as well. All I have to do is close off the curtain and have the audience come from the back.
In Artpark's press release, Mark Thomas, western district director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said, "New York State Parks looks forward to working with Ms. Kozlova Clark and is excited by her vision for Artpark. We welcome her and look forward not only to the upcoming season, but to a long-term relationship of continuing to make Artpark a regional attraction."
JM: Artpark's contract with State Parks is set to end next year. I imagine they want to continue working with Artpark.
Kozlova Clark: So far, yes. We have discussed it, and all signs are they really, really are looking forward to our shared vision. ... I've really made sure whatever ideas I have they go in line with New York State Parks. Mark Thomas and I have spent quite a bit of time together, and our board of directors, and we really are on the same page. ... There are great, great opportunities for us to develop this together.
JM: How about working with the local municipalities - especially the Village of Lewiston. That relationship has had some challenges over the years. How important is it for you to establish a positive relationship with the host communities?
Kozlova Clark: It's absolutely essential, because, ultimately, what I would love to see is constant sort of life present in Artpark that is spilling out to ... Lewiston and eventually leads to economic improvement and stability and benefit. ...
It's a fact how arts can elevate the economic benefit of a neighborhood. How did Greenwich Village come to be? How did Williamsburg come to be? How did Flatbush and now areas beyond come to be? Well, it's through the artists moving in and making life really interesting. And then the rest follows. It all leads to a rise in real estate value.
Blondie at "Tuesday in the Park"
JM: It's probably about two days after the season ends that your staff starts to get asked who's playing the next season. Obviously, people are very interested in the music and the concerts. How involved do you want to be in that aspect of Artpark? Will there still be a committee booking those bands? What are your thoughts here?
Kozlova Clark: I'm very involved, and I'm very happy that George stayed on (as a consultant), and we have a great relationship. I couldn't be more thrilled, because it's very rare, actually. He's so supportive, and so helpful. I'm very fortunate to have him on board.
We'll keep our procedures, in terms of committees that have always booked the concerts. I'm not changing that. We're keeping all the partners in place. But I am very involved, and the next step is ... building stronger relationships with artists directly. I want for all the bands to really recognize Artpark as a place they want to be. It's not just a place that pays them and provides a stop on their route. But it's a place where they want to be. ...
I also want to build a kind of relationship. ... I want to be aware of what causes they work with; what are the interests that they have; what foundations maybe they represent or maybe they raise money for hunger or climate change. ... I want to really serve their interests in a bigger sense. ...
We're going to have our usual series. It's not going to be all that different this summer. It's going to be pretty much in line. But, over time, hopefully we're going to make it just a little more special.
JM: What is the plan for unveiling events? Will it be staggered like last year? When do you think you'll start making announcements?
Kozlova Clark: Well, this year, again, being my first year ... I'm trying to follow what's here at the moment - especially in the concert business. So, I'm going to follow the model that has worked.
JM: To offer a few different concert announcement releases?
Kozlova Clark: Primarily. For now, I think the way things are working out ... I think it would serve our interests to spread it out. ... There might be one big press conference eventually when we have it all together in late spring. ... I think we're going to be rolling out concerts as it makes sense to the bands, as well.
Clark said three concert announcements with on-sale dates will be made Monday.
Updates, interviews, photos and videos will be posted on this website as news breaks, and before and after events.
For more information, visit http://www.artpark.net.