November 2020 Alumni Spotlight
November Alumni Spotlight with Emma Osore, MPA ’15
Director of Community NEW INC, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Emma Osore tells us about her role there, her view on the intersection between art and public administration and more.
Tell us about the New Museum of Contemporary Art and your role there. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
The New Museum is Manhattan’s only dedicated contemporary art museum. Since its founding in 1977 it has been led by the charge of “new art and new ideas”. In 2014, NEW INC was conceived of as a not-for-profit platform to further advance the Museum’s mission and would become the first museum-led creative business incubator in the world.
NEW INC is now approaching its seventh year, as a shared workspace and incubator program supporting an interdisciplinary community of practitioners working at the intersection of art, tech, and design – most are focused on paving a path for equitable participation in culture of the future. The year-long program runs September-August, and supports about 100 creatives as they pursue a sustainable practice or bring a new business to life.
As the newly appointed Director of Community, I take care of the human-centered and community-values driven approach that is central to NEW INCs methodology and identity. I lead member and mentor operations, help foster a sense of togetherness, and direct our annual Open Call process to attract, select, and engage our interdisciplinary community each year.
NEW INC is designed to support people as they speculate on and transform their artistic or business practices. As a result, there is no one-size fits all system or operations that work for our 100 members, 175 mentors, and 450+ alumni. I work through this challenge by practicing deep listening and matching the practical and exploratory needs of our community members with the wide network of resources that NEW INC attracts – whether it’s connecting folks to each other, our community, my personal networks, or with experts from the Museum. I also rely on my colleagues a lot! We are a small team which allows us to be nimble, quickly pivot our processes, and make accommodations to reach people where they are.
What was your Marxe MPA experience like and how did it prepare you to advance your career?
The Marxe curriculum, via the National Urban Fellows program, gave me the formal structures I needed to both feel confident in my technical public administration expertise and to test out the more abstract improvisation required in leadership. During my time, I was matched with a fellowship at the City of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles to consult the city manager on a diverse range of human-centered strategy and policy including police wellness, emergency management, strategic planning, and a percent-for-art program. My Marxe professors, as part of the core distance learning curriculum, offered exercises that pushed the theoretical and professional rigor that both amplified my projects in real time and my general public administration savvy.
As a result, I learned that competing projects, personalities, and processes is the name of the game in a fulfilling career in general, and that in a public service career, leaders have the unique challenge of accommodating the needs of the general public and the most marginal.
The theme of your career so far seems to be art focused. What are the most important ways you see art and public administration intersecting for the public good?
Growing up working class, and even after going to an Ivy League school, the art world seemed opaque and because I couldn’t understand the way in, I did not think it was for me. The place-based and practical nature of the Marxe and the National Urban Fellows program opened the space for me to learn on my own terms – emboldening me to pursue something I perceived as off limits. In the process of having leadership roles in leading nonprofit arts institutions, I also became an entrepreneur and an artist after leaving Marxe, co-founding BlackSpace Urbanist Collective and winning public and private mixed media commissions.
Today, artists and entrepreneurs in my communities remind me that something as seemingly inconsequential as a story, an idea, a song, or a painting has the power to change oppressive public systems. The truth-telling valued in arts and cultural spaces – challenges power brokers and gatekeepers (including public administrators) to return to our common humanity, ask the hard questions, inject beauty, question who are we and who we are truly serving, and hold ourselves accountable to the values we purport to uphold.
To truly change public systems, an artist-level dose of creativity, truth telling, and subversion is required to help people change their minds, rally around an idea, vehemently protest something, or create the future so that it becomes real. The intersection of art and public administration in my life is really about the practice of creative change-making.
Looking back, Marxe offered the access to other systems thinkers, practical tools, a centeredness on human-values and advocacy for the marginalized, as well as the freedom for my personal exploration in an ephemeral and abstract field of art – helping me gain a wider view of the possibilities for our common future and the skills to make it so.