Eclectic and electric, UCLA Live has a long history of bringing diverse programs to Royce Hall. The American Youth Symphony, essayist David Sedaris, the Del McCoury Jazz Band and Freakonomics Radio Live are just a smattering of the varied acts lined up through June.
Joining that impressive roster will be another major talent, but this one will be behind the scenes: Kristy Edmunds, incoming executive and artistic director of UCLA Live.
Across a substantive career, the artist, curator, and frequent consultant has enjoyed and informed vibrant cultural experiences while working in Australia, the Pacific Northwest and New York. Edmunds was the founding executive and artistic director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in 1995, and Portland’s Time-Based Art Festival. She served as artistic director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival (2005-08) for an unprecedented four-year term. She introduced Australian audiences to critically acclaimed artists from every corner of the world; Patti Smith, Theatre du Soleil, Merce Cunningham and the Black Arm Band were among the festival’s high-profile participants.
Edmunds also served as the head of the School of Performing Arts for the Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne. She was recognized as an honorary professorial fellow of the university in 2010 upon her departure. She has also worked as the consulting artistic director for the recently formed Park Avenue Armory, a visual and performing arts nonprofit based in New York City.
At her new UCLA Live position, if there are any challenges, Edmunds does not acknowledge them as such.
“I find that a focus on the 'opportunities' is a more useful approach to getting under way,” she said. “Opportunities tend to cause me to ask questions about potential and I, therefore, learn more about aspirations and pursuits that are value-based. ...”
She will not discount feedback regarding any missteps UCLA Live may have experienced preceding her arrival, but she prefers looking ahead rather than dwelling on the unchangeable past.
“Not to say [such discussions are not] valid [or] informative, but when I am actively listening to future-minded dialogue, solid and relevant potential emerges …” she said. “Great ideas and creative approaches do have an uncanny ability to generate momentum that can remove persistent obstacles.”
Edmunds told Patch that the goal of her new role is “to identify the great possibilities and instigate the contexts that will enable them to thrive in an alignment to the aspirations of artists, audiences, supporters, facilities, and the positive impact this can have through UCLA Live making a substantive contribution.”
In comparison to Portland, Melbourne and New York City, “the arts scene of Los Angeles is grounded within the character of Los Angeles itself … Place and the people who make up the dynamics and appetites of a place always feature in how the arts are positioned.
“I imagine that, in a city with the size and allure of L.A., there will be gaps to fill, areas where one doesn't tread naively, and ample expectations to galvanize substantial energy,” Edmunds continued. A playing field of sorts, the connotations of the term for her “make for a picture of liberation, unbridled joy and an edge of good humored rivalry.”
Edmunds characterizes past professional experiences in Portland and Melbourne as “robust and generous. In every city, the arts are a reflection of the culture and capacity of its inhabitants, and they play a distinct role in the ethos (identity, vibe) of that place. Thankfully, in both Portland and Melbourne, there is a high concentration of artists living and working there. This is important to the depth and vitality of both cities, and that certainly will be the case in Los Angeles.”
Something of a wine connoisseur, Edmunds will miss Australian wine, but “now vastly closer to Oregon's pinot noir ... rest assured, I look forward to imbibing in the great wines of California!”
Beyond wine, there are other things she left behind at her previous places of work that she’ll miss a lot.
“Obviously, the people that my family and I are in regular contact with,” Edmunds said. “Certainly, the local haunts and cuisine, the aboriginal people [in Australia], and my sense of civic connectedness.”
She adds, “Hands down…I will experience the pangs of longing on a daily basis [for] mass transportation!”
However, Edmunds is already soaking up the local scene in the neighborhood where she now works.
“The Hammer is my favorite place in Westwood,” she said. “It’s a remarkable organization. I like going there, both for the work they exhibit and the discussions they host …
"And, I also noticed [Stan’s Donuts]. From the stream of people lined outside of the takeout window, I had the sense that it was a bit of a local magnet. I also went to an Italian restaurant … that sat discreetly along a busy street [that] was clearly in the heart of Persian businesses. I am looking forward to returning for some excellent pasta ... and getting to know the Persian fare as well.”
Of course, a significant difference from the previous places she has worked and her new adopted city is the weather.
“One thing that Portland, Melbourne and New York do share is that each have months of sustained cold and wet weather,” Edmunds said. “I have never lived in a city that is legendarily full of sunshine. It may sound slight, but I am quite curious to see how this impacts on audiences and programming sensibilities ... let alone the impact it might just have on me!”