Museum Dialogue: New DIA director discusses the power of art in metro Detroit communities

Settling in to his new position as director of the Detroit Institute of Arts,

Salvador Salort-Pons looks forward to working with his new staff and talent

within the local community. A native of Madrid, Salort-Pons’ long list of career

highlights include serving as the senior curator at the Meadows Museum at

Southern Methodist University in Dallas, assistant professor at the University of

Madrid and exhibition curator at the Memmo Foundation/Palazzo Ruspoli in

Rome. He joined the DIA’s curatorial division in 2008 as assistant curator of

European paintings and served as head of the European art department, and

later added the role of executive director of collection strategies and

information in 2013.

How is Detroit’s art scene different from other cities you’ve visited?

The city is full of energy and opportunity. Anything is possible, and everyone is welcome. Artists

are creatively utilizing the city as part of their canvas whether through graffiti, video art,

performances, permanent installations and much more.

Now that the city’s bankruptcy is in the rearview mirror, what new role do you see the

Detroit Institute of Arts having?

The DIA has the opportunity to become the main square of our community – an accessible and

diverse institution, where all are welcome and all can enjoy life and the arts. I do see the DIA as

a gathering place that will become the mirror of the society in which we live.

Why is it important to appreciate and learn about art, especially in a museum setting? As an

art historian, I’m interested in learning all the scientific aspects that frame a work of art:

connoisseurship, technical analysis and art historical documentation. The museum is a

wonderful scholarly resource, and the opportunity to study the collection in the flesh is unique.

On the other hand, works of art have a strong spiritual force. They are the platform where

artists present their points of view and their fresh perspectives about the societies in which

they lived or live. Finally, I see, for instance, a work of art as a springboard for an open

discussion about current social matters, and the museum serves as a neutral meeting place

where people from all backgrounds can come together to talk about art whether it’s the

underlying meaning or visual beauty.

What are you looking forward to most as you begin your new position as director at the DIA?

I look forward to working with the staff, volunteers and patrons, as well as engaging our

visitors. I see the DIA as a dynamic museum in dialogue with our communities.  We have so

much talent at the DIA and in our communities, and I look forward to facilitating that talent

through engaging international and national projects, community initiatives and innovative art

exchanges.

What are some exhibitions coming to the DIA this January and February that museum visitors

shouldn’t miss?

Our 30 Americans exhibition will be open until MLK Jr. Day, Jan. 18. It is an extraordinary show

of African American contemporary artists, which includes 55 monumental, beautiful and very

personal works of art. Until June, our visitors will enjoy the show Fifty Years of Collecting:

Detroit Institute of Arts’ Friends of Prints, Drawings and Photographs Anniversary exhibition.

This show celebrates the 50th anniversary of the creation the of Friends of Prints, Drawings and

Photographs, which is one of the most dynamic DIA auxiliary groups whose generous patrons

have supported some of our finest acquisitions featured in the show. Finally, in March we will

open the exhibition Dance: American Art 1830-1960, a multimedia exhibition featuring more

than 90 of America’s most spectacular works of art alongside filmic representations that explain

and celebrate dance as central to American life and culture.

To what do you attribute your success?

I believe in taking on the work that life presents to me each day the best I can and helping

others to be the best they can be. I truly believe that I’m only successful when my overall DIA is

successful.

What is the guiding principle that you live by?

We transform the world by paying attention to others.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am most proud when I’m able to help others accomplish a project. I feel most rewarded when

I can give opportunities for success to others.

Who is your mentor, and why?

My parents provided me with the values and tools to live a healthy, honest and generous life.

They are my mentors of life and showed me that being a humble, loving and a peaceful

individual are good coordinates towards knowing oneself. Throughout my career, I’ve had

different professional mentors in the different countries in which I lived. Recently, in Detroit,

Gene Gargaro has been a guiding light and generous adviser in my work at the DIA. He has an

incredible ability to see right to the heart of an issue, and no matter how insignificant or critical,

he navigates the challenge with both grace and humor.

What was your best career decision?

To accept the position of director of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

What was the toughest situation that you faced in your career, and how did you deal with it?

One of the toughest situations I ever faced was when I decided to give up my position as an art

history assistant professor in Madrid and take a job as a curator in the United States. I felt

personal and professional pressure, on the one hand, to stay in Madrid since I had found myself

in a good position in which I could stay the rest of my life. On the other hand, I saw the

opportunity in the U.S. as a great adventure and an opportunity for growth. In the end, I

realized that I still had so much to learn and experience before I should settle in one position

forever. My approach is to take each day as it comes, and I knew that if I did not try my

American experience, I would later have regrets.

What makes you laugh?

Many things! Especially, I laugh at myself at the first opportunity. Laughing is a very healthy

habit. Through humor we have a good way to understand who we are and where we come

from.

What is something that your mother is always right about?

She is right when she says that there is no fear in love. She probably has never told me that, but

I’ve never seen a more loving and fearless person.

What is your idea of a perfect day off?

Going to the gym, spending some time with the family, taking a nap, reading a book, listening to

music and scouring obscure online auction houses for unattributed art.

What is your favorite Detroit moment?

My favorite Detroit moment is Noel Night. The evening encourages people from all over to walk

the streets of Detroit. Thousands of people come to the city to shop, dine and experience the

arts. The city truly comes to life and shows us how Detroit could be on a regular basis if we

continue to contribute and encourage the current renaissance.

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