If you haven’t heard much about Buffalo Arts Studio, the gallery and network of art studios tucked away on the fifth floor of the Tri-Main Center on Main Street, Alma Carrillo López is going to make sure you do.
Carrillo López, an arts administrator and recent Buffalo transplant who will become the third executive director in the organization’s 24-year history, said in a recent interview that she is determined to amp up the space’s name recognition and extend its influence into new facets of the community. She will be joined by Sara Zak, a local painter who will serve as the venue’s part-time artistic director.
Carrillo López and Zak’s hiring follows the departure of former executive and artistic director Cori Wolff, who left earlier this year for a new job in Cincinnati.
After moving to Buffalo last year with her husband, who teaches at D’Youville College, Carrillo López immediately inserted herself into the city’s cultural community.
“She came to town, didn’t know anybody. Within six weeks, she was on our board of directors,” said BAS board president Jonathan Cox. “She is a hustler, she’s extremely bright and we’re looking forward to getting her going.”
Carillo López, a former program director for the Providence-based arts education nonprofit the Steel Yard, was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and moved as a teenager to San Antonio, Texas.
She earned her undergraduate degree from Notre Dame University and her master’s degree in public humanities and cultural heritage from Brown University. She has worked as a teacher, translator, oral historian, curator at several American museums and educational institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the University of Texas at Austin, Brown University and the University at Buffalo.
Carrillo López will join an organization searching for new ways to sustain its mission of providing affordable studio and exhibition space to artists and free or cheap educational programs to the public. Buffalo Arts Studio was founded in 1990 by Joanna Angie and has grown to become an important if undersung staple of Buffalo’s cultural community.
The new director’s goal is to make Buffalo Arts Studio into a more welcoming place for artists and art fans from across the community. She said she has learned from her experiences hosting cultural programs at Brown University and at the Steel Yard that community outreach will be one of the most important parts of the job.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for people to be engaged if they know they are welcome, if they feel welcome. I like the idea of taking the scary part, the intimidating part (away),” Carrillo López said. “You can say you’re inviting people to the table, but what are you doing to get them to the table? It’s a responsibility that you have to take.”
She also said the position at BAS fits snugly into her professional goals and aspirations.
“My professional interest is a lot about access, it’s about really making the spaces welcoming and affordable. I saw a lot of the work making affordable spaces for artists, that was right up my alley. Trying to increase the free programming for youth was right up my alley. Having a space where people can come and look at art for free? Right up my alley.”
In the short term, Carrillo López will be helping the organization complete its strategic planning process and learning more about its challenges. She stayed mum on whether she would seek to relocate Buffalo Arts Studio to a more central and accessible location – a longtime concern of the board and staff of the organization – saying only that she would hold off on sharing her opinions until she heard what the organizations other staffers and board members had to say.
No matter what direction she takes the organization, it’s clear that Carrillo López is interested in widening the circle of people it attracts.
“One of the things that drove me to the city was the diversity, but one of the things that has been hard is that I go to different spaces, and they are very racialized,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to feel like this is not a space for me. So I think just getting people to have that conversation will be the first important part.”