The city of Savannah has announced its new cultural resources director just in time for the grand opening of the new Savannah Cultural Arts Center on Montgomery Street.

From Miami, new director Lissette Arrogante has broad experience in the arts, including work in public museums, private galleries, corporate art, various nonprofits and festival planning.

“I'm very excited,” says Arrogante. “I think this is such an amazing opportunity. It's really a dream position to be in.”

 

Work with artists, community

Arrogante began her career in the arts at Perez Art Museum Miami, eventually realizing she wanted to work more closely with artists. She transitioned into the private gallery world to better work one-on-one with artists. She then found her way into the corporate art arena as regional director at the Artist Pension Trust, which she describes as “the first investment program tailored to the needs of emerging and mid-career artists, which provided them with a long-term financial planning opportunity.”

At a critical point in her career, Arrogante says she asked herself, “What am I bringing to the table as far as working with the community?” She transitioned into the area of foundation work, taking a position as director of special projects at the Harpo Foundation, an organization founded in 2006 to support under-recognized artists. At Harpo, Arrogante led the Native American Residency Fellowship program and worked with artists to help find grant funding.

After a little over a year, Arrogante took another step toward community arts leadership.

“I really wanted to go further and that's when I decided to then go into public service and really be a servant leader,” says Arrogante. “I became a National Urban Fellow and spent some time at the Cleveland Foundation, and that's really how I learned cross-collaboration.

"Cleveland is so small and in the nine months I was there, I was able to learn how city government, the Cleveland Foundation, and nonprofit organizations would all work together and cross-collaborate to do one project. It was a really great experience to see how that works — being able to experience that first-hand with the Glenville Arts Campus.”

 

'Beacon for the arts'

The Glenville Arts Campus was a $3.2 million project that transformed a vacant historic building in Cleveland into an international artist residency for FRONT International, Cleveland's first triennial art exhibition that opened in July last year. After her stint in Cleveland, Arrogante went back to Miami, but was only there for a short time because the opportunity in Savannah revealed itself to be just what she was looking for.

“I'm here in Savannah because of the amazing opportunity of this position,” says Arrogante. “I think it's an art administrator's dream come true to be able to lead the opening of a new center that's going to be a beacon for the arts community. I think anyone would jump at this opportunity. I'm very grateful to be here.”

Arrogante has been at her job as cultural resources director for less than a month, but she couldn't be more pleased to be diving in head-first in her first few weeks. She definitely has her hands full.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be April 12. The public is invited to the grand opening April 13 with art and ceramics class demonstrations, performances from local organizations, a sneak peek of some of the planned programming, and the 18th annual New Beginning Art Exhibit, which was rescheduled as part of the Savannah Black Heritage Festival.

Key is collaboration

Looking ahead, Arrogante is anxious to get to know the various members and leaders of the Savannah community to identify potential needs and points of collaboration.

“My first goal is to introduce myself to all the local organizations and get an idea of what the cultural needs are for the city,” says Arrogante. “That way, by partnering with all the local institutions and nonprofit organizations, we can work together to bring dynamic, diverse and inclusive programming to the residents of Savannah. That's something that's one of my first goals.”

Arrogante also says cross-collaboration and accessibility are two of the themes that will help drive the direction of the department.

“I think part of being a National Urban Fellow is that you get firsthand training as far as what is needed looking to the future and being a leader,” says Arrogante. “They make you think a lot about racial equity. I'm also really into the idea of the digital divide and how that affects low-income neighborhoods and school-aged children... In order for a city to provide equitable resources for all of its residents, technology is something that we have to bring into the fold and it's something we need to talk about.”

She said the Cultural Arts Center will have free Wi-Fi, which will in itself be a community resource. She also talks about how Savannah has so many amazing organizations already in place that are working with various sectors of the community and how she wants to help build on that to make the programming at the center open and accessible to everyone.

“The only way I think that I can do that is by partnering with the local organizations that are already working with different audiences and bringing them into this building,” says Arrogante.

Kristopher Monroe is a writer documenting the intersection of art and community. Contact him at savartscene@gmail.com and follow on Twitter @savartscene.