Since assuming her position as arts and culture exhibitions manager for the San Diego Public Library system a few months ago, Kara West has heard one thing again and again: "You've got big shoes to fill."
West heads up the library's Visual Arts Program, which was elegantly spearheaded by Mark Elliott-Lugo for more than a decade until he retired in 2012. Lugo, respected in the art world, put together dozens of high-caliber shows at the Pacific Beach Library featuring the city's best mid- to late-career artists.
"I'm optimistic, and I see it as a huge advantage that it's such a reputable program and so well-respected," says West, in her tiny office in the Art Gallery on the ninth floor of the new central library in East Village. "What Mark Elliot-Lugo did for the arts and what he did for the library is so unique and powerful."
West, a San Diego native who's worked at the Balboa Art Conservation Center and has a master's degree in library science, will play a different role than Lugo. She's not a curator who'll put together shows at the new library's art gallery or any of the 35 branch libraries; she's overseeing a complicated and expansive arts program, and her goal, she says, is to make it more transparent and accessible.
West has been visiting the branch libraries to see where she can find venues for local visual art, whether it's a big community room or just a hallway, foyer or glass display case. Once she's done, she'll creating a simple online submission form to make the procedures—many of which have been in place for years—easier for artists to access and understand. Each library is its own ecosystem, she explains, so the people overseeing the visual-arts submissions and programming at each branch will vary. Things are still evolving, but West says specifics will be announced soon.
The central library's art gallery will serve as the new flagship gallery for the Visual Arts Program. The space will be curated separately through a collaborative process. The opening show, for instance, was guest-curated by Kathryn Kanjo of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Kanjo says she has high hopes for program and the impressive new space, which she thinks can serve as a civic art gallery, showcasing San Diego's best artists.
West "is doing something very different," Kanjo says. "This will be a notable change. She is going to corral multiple points of view at multiple sites... It's a very complex but very exciting proposition for her."