Jörn Weisbrodt, an arts administrator with more than 20 years of experience directing and working with a range of cultural initiatives and institutions, has been appointed Artistic Director of ALL ARTS. In this new role, Weisbrodt will help curate special events, develop an artist-in-residence initiative and conceptualize programming ideas.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Weisbrodt has served as Artistic Director of the Luminato Festival in Toronto; Executive Director of RW Work, Ltd., where he represented and managed the work of Robert Wilson, and Director of the Watermill Center, a laboratory for performance founded by Wilson; and Artistic Production Director at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (The Berlin State Opera). In a recent conversation with ALL ARTS, Weisbrodt spoke about his vision for ALL ARTS’ forthcoming streaming platform and broadcast channel, to be launched in January 2019; his intention to highlight artists who are underrepresented or not typically seen in New York; and how our definition of culture has significantly broadened over the years.
ALL ARTS: Can you talk a bit about your vision for ALL ARTS?
Jörn Weisbrodt: I think it’s less about my vision for ALL ARTS — it’s more about my vision for the arts in general. Because I feel, to a great extent, that we need to reverse a very fundamental direction in which the arts have gone over the last few hundred years, in a way.
Basically, the arts have been taken out of people’s everyday lives and have been taken out of their hands and put into the hands of professionals. Art has been put on the stages of theaters that are separate from the audience. It has been taken into museums that are separate buildings and has been locked up in museums.
I think that, as an original creation, art really came out of the communities where people congregated and lived together. It was something that had a very participatory aspect, and it was really something that actually made, I think, larger communities even possible, and more complex communities possible. Because you would share stories, you would share images of the world through painting, you would make music together, you would sing together, you would dance together. And in a way this sort of separation of the arts into the professional arts and the high arts and entertainment and this and that — it was really a much later development, and I think it has taken us further and further away from what the origin of the arts are, in a way, of creating community.
So I think what is exciting about ALL ARTS is that here we really have the chance to build a cultural and artistic idea from the bottom up. And most cultural organizations really look at culture and have an idea of culture as something that is very top down. You know, in the ’50s and ’60s all across the United States, people built these gigantic performing arts centers, these containers of art. And the idea was that people had to come to them and that culture will trickle down from that. I think what the beautiful thing about the ALL ARTS channel, or any kind of TV in a way, is that it doesn’t have any walls. It doesn’t have any barriers. It doesn’t have any borders and it also has plenty of real estate. There is enough time in the day to do a lot of things.
So I think we can actually be something that really looks at culture from the bottom up and be something that is incredibly inclusive and that is more like an open system and an open platform rather than a closed one, which most cultural organizations are today — I mean, a lot of them are. Understanding that there are a lot of people who feel left out by cultural organizations, who feel it’s not really their place.
The beautiful thing with ALL ARTS is that it’s one place and you can see everything, you can meander from art form to art form, so there’s that side of openness as well.
AA: What are some specific things you hope to contribute as artistic director?
JW: What is important for me is that ALL ARTS is a celebration of what is in New York, but at the same time also a celebration of what is not in New York, because New York sort of looks at itself as the center of the universe and the center of the art world, and I would say internationally that is still true in a way.
But there are a lot of things internationally also that want to be in New York, want to come to New York, but that maybe don’t make it here, or maybe a lot of things that should be in New York or should be known in New York that aren’t known in New York. So I think it’s about celebrating New York and it’s also about bringing things to the forefront in New York that maybe a lot of New Yorkers are not really aware of.
I think the key is really going to be about doing a lot of collaboration with other institutions. These sorts of collaborations bring in an openness, bring in these other institutions and their audiences. But not only going to the obvious examples — really, collaborating with institutions that are very much rooted in their communities and maybe don’t necessarily immediately come to mind if you think about the cultural institutions of New York.
I also think that we need to look at creativity. We need to look at the arts and culture in a much broader kind of way, because it’s become very evident that in the last few years, cultural activity — or what people describe as cultural activity — has never been as high.
I think what has shifted is what people define as culture and how people understand that it’s a cultural behavior when they go to a food fair or something like that. What people think of as culture is much broader now, it’s a much more open kind of ecosystem than what it has been traditionally defined as by the professional makers of culture. So I think it’s important to also look at really expanding our viewpoint into a much wider lens of creativity than what we’ve done before.
AA: What do you think is missing on the arts and culture media landscape in New York? How do you think ALL ARTS can help fill that void?
JW: I mean, there is no 24-hour arts channel in New York or anywhere in the United States. I think that’s filling a huge void there. And I think the exciting thing about that idea is that on any traditional channel, the arts are always having to fight for space, right? Or if you look at newspapers, the arts coverage is getting smaller because that’s not how you sell newspapers — even though I don’t really understand that because it’s always the first section that I read! [laughs]
I really hope that this channel is going to be something that artists and creative people of New York are going to embrace as theirs, as their platform in a way, and that they will come to us and say, I have this film, I did this, I’m doing this, I’m doing this series about these little community gardens where amazing artists create sculptures out of wood, out of earth every day, or something like that. I hope that it really becomes a gathering place in a way and that it’s not only something that we in these offices create and put together and then send out into the world. I hope that there is going to be a dialogue, an exchange. And I think that today, with digital media, these exchanges are much more possible than they were 20 years ago.
But this doesn’t mean that it’s an open channel or an open mic contest or anything like that. I think there’s a fine line between that because it still is something that is curated and thought through and put together. It’s like a mosaic. You can either take all the different colored zones that you have and throw them on the floor. That’s one thing — that’s an open channel. Or you can take them and turn them into a beautiful pattern or picture on the floor. And that’s what I think the ALL ARTS channel could really be.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.