October 22, 2014
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Culture Watch: At Last, a Curator

Frank Verpoorten steps into the long-vacant job at the Patty & Jay Baker Museum of Art with the challenge of defining a new mission.

Being the head of the Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art has been, since its inception, a little like being the drummer for Spinal Tap sans fatalities. It feels like the longest tenure for a curator is held by “vacant.”

Phil CEO Kathleen van Bergen is hoping to change that trend with the hiring of Frank Verpoorten to run the nascent museum. You can see when speaking to her about the new director/curator a sense of relief. Finally, she’s found one of two artistic partners that she’s been desperately searching for since joining the Phil in 2011.

In Verpoorten (pronounced as if the second “o” didn’t exist), the museum seems to be adding someone with an analogous background and world view as its CEO. Like van Bergen, his experience is in big markets and with broad and narrow organizations. He’s been in the New York metro area for most of the past decade, working with both niche museums (the Dahesh Museum, which specializes in 19th century European academic art) and as part of integrated arts complexes (the Snug Harbor Cultural Center). For the past four years, he’s being acting as the cultural attaché for his home country of Belgium.

But where van Bergen had an overall organization with a good deal of the important groundwork in place and is left to think of ways to reimagine the arts experience, it would seem that Verpoorten has a more onerous task: He sort of has to start from scratch.

Sure, there’s already a substantial collection in place. “It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of,” he says. “… And it will always be a part of who we are.”

Yes, there is “world-class infrastructure,” budgets more generous than any he’s worked with in the past and an ambition both on the board level and from the staff.

Yet, the museum doesn’t really know what it has or what it wants to be, he says. Does it want to specialize in particular subsets? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the collection, and how do those match up with the rest of the market?

“It’s a very enormous intellectual exercise to be done,” he says. “This is a very young museum and we want to seize the opportunity to say the least.”

Part of this depends on van Bergen and the Phil’s board. They have started an effort to consider the organization’s brand and how that can be improved to strengthen the whole. Verpoorten called the rebranding mission—still in its initial stages and not available for off-campus consumption—“extremely progressive” and said it was as good or better than anything he’d seen in New York.

Verpoorten sees the rebranding, which should come as part of the Phil’s 25th anniversary of its campus in 2014, as an opportunity for the museum to step out from the large shadow cast by the performing arts center.

Just a short time on the job and he already understands one of his biggest challenges, saying, “A lot of people aren’t familiar with the museum at all.”

Here’s hoping for him and the museum that his tenure is long enough to see that change.

Go see Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Phil.

 Outside of maybe Bill Nye. few people have done as much in the past two decades to get people talking about science as Neil de- Grasse Tyson. The noted astrophysicist/ natural philosopher/all-around cool guy/heartthrob* is coming to the Phil as part of its speaker series, and outside of last year’s visit by Bill Clinton, I can’t think of a speaker I’ve been more excited about.

There’s a reason why everyone from Nova to Jon Stewart to Rachel Maddow put him on their shows as often as possible. The guy can take complex scientific concepts and put them into language us non-astrophysicists can understand. Or he can riff for 30 minutes on the likelihood of the technology from sci-fi movies actually working. He helped DC Comics pick out a real-life star that could be the parent star for Krypton, for crying out loud.

But perhaps the biggest reason to support Tyson is that he’s a big advocate for math/science education. And at a time when our country is lagging in this area, there are few things more important.

Oh, and because this is Naples: He’s also a huge wine connoisseur. Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks at the Phil at 8 p.m. on Jan. 21. thephil.org

*Well, People did name him the World’s Sexiest Astrophysicist in 1999, but we’re guessing that’s not a highly competitive sub-category.

—JF

 MUST SEE OF THE MONTH

Tedeshi Trucks Band

Although you can catch some excellent blues acts at the Buckingham Blues Bar throughout the year, it’s rare that a group as good as the Tedeshi Trucks Band appears there. Separately the husband and wife duo of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeshi are amazing in their own right. The former comes from an illustrious Southern rock family (uncle Butch is an original member of the Allman Brothers Band) and is Rolling Stone’s 16th greatest guitarist of all time. The latter is one of the best blues guitarists alive—male or female. But together they form a blues and soul rock combination that can beat you into submission and then cradle you all the way home. Catch Tedeshi Trucks Band as part of the Sunshine Blues Festival at Centennial Park in Fort Myers on Jan. 18.

JF

 

 

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