Janice La Motta says things have moved very quickly since she was appointed Executive Director of the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM) in October. She found a great cottage with mountain views, not far from town, and she’s experienced two major events — the Woodstock Film Festival and WAAM’s annual Fine Art Auction. “I hit the ground running and have yet to find a ‘typical’ week. It’s a lot to get used to, transitioning into a new position, but I’m older and wiser now,” she said.
La Motta brings over 30 years of fine arts experience as an entrepreneur, non-profit/arts organization leader and a practitioner of the visual arts. She was a curator at the New Britain Museum of American Art for over five years before running her own contemporary fine art gallery, Paesaggio, for 18 years. A graduate of the Hartford Art School, La Motta has served as a juror for artist fellowship grants for the CT Commission on Culture and Tourism and other entities, and continues to create and show her own visual art.
Her decision to move to Woodstock from Connecticut, where she spent most of the past four decades, was sparked by the freedom that can emanate from loss, and bolstered by happy memories of summers spent in the Lanesville area in the late ‘70s. “I loved the area then, spent a lot of time hiking around Kaaterskill Falls, and the Catskill Mountains stayed with me. The area started to come on my radar screen again, even before I learned of this position at WAAM,” she said, having recently exhibited the work of a fellow alumna of Hartford Art School, Carole Kunstadt (who lives in the Woodstock area). “Now, I’m at a watershed point in my life. My 20-year old daughter is in school and the bulk of my child rearing is done. I just lost both parents in the last year and a half. I needed a change, but I didn’t know what. I’ve never been afraid to take risks, so the uncertainty was more unsettling than the actual change.”
Since moving here, she’s experienced the palpable sense of history that’s embedded in the arts in Woodstock, and is enjoying the friendliness and artistic sensibilities of the community. “There have been a lot of funny little serendipitous moments that have characterized this move for me,” she said, like discovering mutual affinities for her favorite poet and painter — Jack Gilbert and Giorgio Morandi, respectively — during holiday party conversations. “This shared aesthetic makes me feel welcome.”
Acknowledging the challenges WAAM has recently experienced, La Motta said, “I’ve been using the word ‘re-setting’ a lot. After their longtime director left, [Josephine Bloodgood] WAAM hit a bit of a bumpy road with a director who stayed for a short tenure [Neil Trager]. This is a transitional time, a time to re-set in a lot of areas. I am fortunate to work with a great staff — they know their jobs, have professionalism, and are committed and passionate. We are being positive, and moving forward, and have a lot to celebrate with our upcoming Centennial.”
Planning for programming and celebrations for WAAM’s 2019 Centennial is already underway. La Motta wants to encourage healthy dialogue across the generations and plans to engage artists to take a look at WAAM’s extensive Permanent Collection of over 2000 works by American artists who have lived and created art in the Woodstock area. “It’s important to keep a Collection like this relative to the contextual conversations that contemporary artists are having — and I don’t mean just 25-year olds. We have some seminal 20th century artists living in the area, and I’d like to get them involved in interpreting the collection.
“This is definitely a time of reflection,” she continued. “How to mark our Centennial and how to position WAAM moving forward? We are definitely re-setting, and re-defining, but always with the interest and intent of support for the vision, while keeping it vital and current. Yes, it’s a delicate balance.”
In Connecticut, La Motta held “Pot Luck Slide Shows” which crowd-sourced images on a continuous loop as backdrop during a potluck meal and informal conversations, and she’d like to start something similar here. The gatherings allowed artists and appreciators to convene to talk about work, both in progress and finished, within the context of an artist’s larger body of work. Unlike a group show, where an artist might only have one piece included, artists have an opportunity to talk briefly about their work, and the practice of their craft. “Having a conversation about the work is a vital part of the process,” said La Motta.
“I have a sympathetic understanding of the issues that artists face. As an entrepreneur, that background is very important to me because risk-taking is one of the hallmarks of the entrepreneurial spirit. I approach challenges with the idea of not being afraid: I think about what’s possible. Miles Davis always said, ‘there are no mistakes’ and I agree with that. Taking on something new or different propels us forward and frees us up. It’s a necessary approach, and brings a fresh and welcoming perspective.”
As a younger artist, La Motta’s circle of friends included older artists who were “real guideposts,” and she especially appreciated the painters and sculptors who lived in New York City in the 50s. “You start to hear a timeless perspective embedded in their stories, and there was a nice sense of comfort — and stimulation — that came from being among more mature artists when I was younger. It put things into perspective.”
“Life is a great trip, and you stop when it’s over,” she said. “There’s a very interesting demographic here in Woodstock, and a certain part of it is older. Seeing people who continue to practice their craft, and the investment they’ve made in it, keeps it vital.”