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Incoming SAM deputy director plans to ‘hit the ground running'

caption: José Carlos Diaz
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José Carlos Diaz
Courtesy of SAM/Alexis Gideon

Each Friday, we talk about arts & culture in the Puget Sound region. Today, we reached out to a new arts leader. Seattle Art Museum recently announced that José Carlos Diaz will become the institution's new deputy director for art.

It's a big job, overseeing the museum's entire artistic program, not only at SAM downtown, but also at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Diaz was previously the chief curator at the Andy Warhol Museum. He talked to KUOW’s Kim Malcolm about what drew him to Seattle and his role at SAM.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

José Carlos Diaz: My background is in cultural history. The fact that there are so many collections — African to oceanic, European to American, and all the way through contemporary and public art — is really exciting for me, to work across different collections with different experts in these fields, and to come up with new and exciting offerings for Seattle.

Kim Malcolm: You’ve been curating pop art at the Andy Warhol Museum. I'm wondering if we’ll see that part of your expertise here in Seattle.

Pop art is popular culture. That means it's everyday culture. I think Andy Warhol really tackled American life in the 20th century. I think responding to the moment is so important for museums today, and is something that I will tackle. I think what you'll see is an emphasis on contemporary culture, contemporary life, and certainly being relevant and really thinking about our role in the moment.

It does strike me that we are in quite a moment right now. It’s an interesting time to be an artist right now. What are some of the big ideas you've been kicking around?

There's been a big demand for museums to become more inclusive, to stay relevant. That’s a big challenge across the industry. I've been thinking about how museums can be better, do better. There's a reckoning going across the art world around diversity and inclusion. This is everything from rethinking collections, to also rethinking staff, structure, and growth.

I'm going to hit the ground running. I really want to get a sense of where we are, listen to the staff, but also start communicating with stakeholders and think about what the needs are for an institution in the Pacific Northwest, and how that responds to what's happening in the country.

What do you hope to see, in terms of what kind of programming you can offer that will bring people in?

I want to make SAM an institution that people, especially locals, will want to come to frequently. Maybe they've only gone once a year. I really want to think about ways to bring people back into the neighborhood. The beauty of SAM is it has something for everyone, whether you want to be outside, but also to bring people in.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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