The executive director of the Longue Vue House and Gardens in New Orleans has been hired as the new executive director of the Palos Verdes Art Center in Rolling Hills Estates.
Joe Baker will assume his new duties in March, taking over for Robert A. Yassin, who will retire next week.
"I'm intensely interested in community, and that has been the nature of my work in the arts throughout my career," Baker said. "The new center really sets the stage of exploring the intersection between art, culture and the community. What an exciting time to be joining a very successful, storied institution."
Yassin has been CEO and executive director of the center for 11 years and will remain involved through the transition, according to a PVAC press release.
"Bob has done an incredible job," Baker said. "He has secured the foundation for something great to happen, and I'm honored to be the next person to carry the narrative forward."
As he begins the next chapter in his professional life, Baker is looking forward to identifying mutually supportive partnerships within the Palos Verdes Peninsula community.
"I like to think of myself as an artist and bridge maker," he said. "That means creating a bridge from the center to other arts and cultural organizations within the broader community, and creating new partnerships and opportunities for exploring and celebrating the arts.
Once he becomes better acquainted with PVAC's staff and faculty, Baker wants to explore the role that the arts center will have in the community and find new ways to bring the community in.
"That may take the form of a film festival, or maybe music, or maybe we bring dance to the center," he said. "I really think all arts organizations today need to ask themselves not what they stand for, but what they are known for and how they serve their communities."
Having participated in exhibitions that explore canines in the family, Baker would like to bring "Yappy Hour" to the center, allowing people to bring their pets and celebrate their importance.
Baker has a history of contributing to innovative exhibitions and programs, according to a PVAC statement. As Longue Vue's executive director, he re-energized a changing exhibition program and commissioned an opera about civil rights called "Freedom Ride."
As director for community engagement with Arizona State University's Institute for Design and the Arts, he encouraged students and faculty in the School of Music to explore grass-roots community arts activism through an all-elements hip-hop event titled Civil Disobedience. He also researched health disparity in urban populations through a partnership with the School of Nursing and Health Innovation, School of Landscape Architecture and St. Vincent de Paul Society. In addition, he established Night Gallery, which created an experimental exhibition space in a marketplace that included music, dance, new media, theater and film.
Baker is married to Joey Baker, an artist who teaches at Phoenix College. They have two grown daughters and four grandchildren, all living in Phoenix. As the family makes the transition to the South Bay, Baker is planning to enjoy the hiking trails, botanic garden and the beauty of the Peninsula.
"It's an incredible landscape, a vast outdoor studio to explore," he said.
The area's history appeals to him as well.
"That's something else I think the center can do, it can mine and celebrate local history through lectures, exhibitions and special learning opportunities," he said. "When we understand our history, we can fully engage our future."
The PVAC's board of directors is excited to find an executive director with Baker's background.
"Joe brings with him a depth of experience and expertise in the visual arts world that will serve the art center well as we enter our next exciting chapter," said Loren DeRoy, board chairman.