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Burlington Buzz

05/31/2011 09:31PM ● Published by Anonymous

A Chat with John Killacky

CEO and executive director of the Flynn Center

by Mike Morin

You’ve said that in the arts, we build a shared sense of community. What is your vision for the Flynn Center to achieve that mission?

There are three important components of the Flynn’s programming: presenting world-class artists across a broad aesthetic spectrum, offering expansive arts education and outreach, and creating opportunities for Vermont artists. In each of these, audiences and participants come together to share, witness, and celebrate. My focus will be supporting a multiplicity of artistic expression, hoping that we offer something for everyone, while acknowledging that all cannot be pleasing to everyone. In our differences, our shared humanity is ultimately revealed and illuminated.

There is much we learn from artists. Every day they start anew with a blank page, an empty canvas, a barren rehearsal room—every day struggling to go deeper. If something does not work, they think of something else. If it does work, they make it even better. These are essential skills in tumultuous times.

How important is it to have Vermont legislators restore the protected tax status of nonprofit arts organizations?

I worry that, in the rush to balance our state’s deficit, the importance of the nonprofit arts sector is being erased. Not-for-profits provide services that for-profit corporations or government agencies cannot. Yes, the Flynn presents great artists to our audiences, but we also serve 40,000 students statewide through student matinees, classes, workshops, and camps, as well as subsidize tickets for partners in social service agencies, educational institutions, and community organizations. This is our distinguishing nonprofit mission, making the arts accessible and serving those less fortunate.

You came to Vermont from San Francisco. Tell us about the similarities and differences of the arts scene in both communities.

The Bay Area is a much larger arts market and is home to more artists and arts organizations. However, artists and audiences there are insular. Here there is an eagerness to experience imported art forms. Another striking difference is how intentional Vermonters are in leading integrated expressive lives with little distinction between professional and amateur artistic practices. High art and craft are both held in deservedly equal esteem here and not placed in a false hierarchy.

Your earlier years included dance performance. You also made a film about singer Janis Ian. Any interest in doing another film project?

Documentary films take so long to finance, make, and distribute, particularly when you have a full-time job. The Janis Ian program consumed five years of my life. Gratefully, it found an audience; it was broadcast on 172 PBS stations. I am currently in preproduction and fundraising for a documentary on choreographer Trisha Brown. I managed her New York dance company in the mid-1980s. I have already interviewed her on camera and plan to juxtapose this footage with archival material and interviews with Laurie Anderson, Bill T. Jones, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and other luminaries who worked with her.

You can be found many mornings with your Shetland pony Pacific Raindrop. How did you come to be an equestrian?

My father sold cattle at the Chicago Stockyards, so I grew up around horses and rode throughout my life. Fifteen years ago I became paraplegic after spinal surgery, losing much function in my legs. Riding large equines was no longer possible, but I reconnected with a childhood love of Shetlands and have been driving ponies in carts for the past five years. These beautiful creatures allow me to move and dance freely again in the world—exhilarating for this middle-aged guy who ambulates with a cane. Look out for my roan pinto and me on the back roads of Williston!

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