Cathy Breslaw's Installation

Cathy Breslaw's Installation
Cathy Breslaw's Installation:Dreamscape

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Behind the Scenes Conversations: Interview with Erika Torri, Executive Director of the Athenaeum, Music and Arts Library, La Jolla CA

Erika Torri is the Executive Director of the Athenaeum, Music and Arts Library in La Jolla.  She became director in 1989, so for the past 23 years, Erika has seen the Athenaeum through design and building renovations, an expansion of staff, the development of arts book collections, studio art school, and the growth of many music and art exhibition programs.  As she walked me through the spaces of the building, I could sense the pride and passion she has for the athenaeum and what she and others, under her direction, have accomplished there.

Robert Kushner, ScriptoriumThe Athenaeum is a unique cultural institution in San Diego county and is one of only 16 non profit libraries in the U.S. Devoted exclusively to music and art, it is an amazing resource for books, reference materials, CDs, and DVDs – it has one of the most important collections of artists books in Southern California. For a small yearly fee, members can borrow materials and take part in the large calendar of events taking place throughout the year including concerts, exhibitions, lectures, studio art classes and special programs.                                                                                     
During our conversation, Erika explained that what exists today as the Athenaeum has actually taken every bit of the 23 years to be created and developed. Over the years, 5 million dollars has been raised to create what exists today. Erika oversees a current 1.5 million dollar budget, which is raised through fundraisers, member dues(currently 2300 members), grants , donations and school fees. Erika has developed a staff of over 20 who help in running this multifaceted music and arts library and its accompanying programs.

When Erika was hired, she was told she was the “perfect person for the job” and as we talked, and as the “whole” of her background unfolded, it was easy to see why.  Erika Torri was born and raised in Bremen, a city in northern Germany. When asked about her arts background, Erika explained that in the years after World War II, there was a lot of emphasis placed on arts and culture, and she frequently visited museums, theater, and opera and as a result of this influence, she minored in music for her undergraduate degree.  She was educated at the University of Hamburg where she received a masters degree in Library Science. Originally she thought about getting a degree in Chemistry or Pharmacy, but quickly learned that Library Science would have better job opportunities. During her training she did a series of internships, the most noted being at the
Sorbonne in Paris.

Erika had always had an interest in coming to the U.S. for an extended visit so when she completed her schooling, she found a way to live in New York City for a while and then went to Boston for an internship at a library - there she met her future husband, Fred, who was studying at MIT. She returned to Germany to her family and then married her husband and moved permanently to the U.S. For a few years they stayed in Boston and Erika was a librarian at Harvard’s medical school.  Her husband’s job then brought them to San Diego where she has lived for the past forty years.


Erika’s interest in visual art first began with weaving.  As a 12 year old, Erika met a woman at her church who introduced her to the craft and taught her how to use looms. This introduction to weaving has grown and sustained over many years and she still keeps several looms at her home.  When her two daughters were in school, Erika spent her time weaving very small art pieces which she exhibited and sold widely across the country.         

Erika’s weaving was interrupted when she was offered a part time librarian position at MOCA in La Jolla.  This worked well as she could balance her family responsibilities with a job.  She speaks of this as a wonderful time when she was exposed to many contemporary artists and their work. She was especially taken with the work of sculptor, Mauro Stacciolli who she had an opportunity to meet. It was during this time that the Athenaeum was looking for a librarian and after long consideration, decided to take it. Still wanting to balance home and work, Erika took It as a part time position, working 12 hours per week. Shortly after Erika took the job at the Athenaeum, the Director left and she took on the added responsibilities of overseeing all the renovations of the building going on at that time.

As the years went on, Erika developed the art exhibition program which exists today.  Artist exhibitions include the yearly  juried exhibition which is selected by outside jurors or by invitation by Erika and the arts committee. There is no particular curatorial system for selecting artists, but she welcomes artist packets if their work has some connection to the mission of the institution – having to do with artist books, music or the written word.
While there is great participation and enthusiasm in the community for the Athenaeum, Erika’s
wish is for everyone living in La Jolla to become a member. Though there is outreach to all 8 districts in the school system, many kinds of events, concerts and lectures, Erika believes there are still many folks who are still unaware of all that is available at this wonderful music and arts library. It is truly a crown jewel of San Diego county and in large part, we have Erika Torri to thank for it.

**Photo Images: (in order of top to bottom) Robert Kushner, Scriptorium:Devout Exercises of the Heart, 2012
                                                                                  David Adey, John Henry, 2010
                                                                                Adam Belt, A Religious Experience, 2011
                                                                                Kathy Miller, Leaving a Mark, 2006
Cathy Breslaw is a southern California visual artist, writer and lecturer who has had over 25 solo exhibitions, and 50 group exhibitions across the country at museums, art centers, college and university galleries and commercial galleries. Her work can be found in many private and corporate collections.
Her work and writing can be seen at:                                                     

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