My interview with Alessandra Moctezuma is the most recent in my series of dialogues called ‘Behind the Scenes Conversations” with Curators, Gallery and Exhibition Directors. I met with Alessandra at her office on the San Diego Mesa College campus which was teeming with students during its second week of fall classes. Since 2001, she has been both professor of Museum Studies and Gallery Director of the college gallery.
Alessandra spoke with a great deal of nostalgia and passion as she discussed her growing up years, education and work experiences. She was born in Mexico City where her father was a painter, filmmaker, and T.V. personality and her mother worked in anthropology and archeology. Alessandra and her sisters grew up in a home filled with art and her parents’ artist friends visiting on a regular basis. When she was 9 years old, the family relocated to Madrid, Spain for her father’s work. Alessandra described her home as filled with the love of art and as an encouraging space for creativity. Whether they were building cities out of cardboard or making costumes for their dolls, she and her siblings were steeped in learning about culture in all its forms as well as taking trips to nearby archeological sites where their mom shared her knowledge. During her early years Alessandra was mostly educated in Montessori and private schools until the family moved to Los Angeles where she attended Santa Monica College and then received a B.A. degree in Fine Art and Chicano Studies from UCLA. Alessandra continued her education at UCLA and later received an MFA in painting and printmaking.
During her years at UCLA, Alessandra became an assistant to Judy Baca, a noted Chicano public art Muralist. Originally studying to be a painter, she helped create several murals with Baca. Along with painting, as assistant to Baca, Alessandra received training in writing grants, curating exhibitions, project management and several other practical skills in handling the challenges of the art world. She also participated in the “World Wall” project, a portable mural, collaborating with artists from several countries, and helped install the mural at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Although she received her MFA in painting and printmaking, her work was channeled into managing public art projects and teaching. In the late 1990s, Alessandra became a public arts officer at LA county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. There she managed projects from artist/architect design collaborations for subway stations and oversaw the fabrication of artworks, developed budgets and managed contracts.
Her husband’s work brought her to SUNY Stony Brook, New York where Alessandra pursued a Ph.D. in Hispanic Language and Literature. While she enjoyed her studies, she greatly missed Los Angeles and the southern California community. She saw the ad listing for professor and gallery director at Mesa College, interviewed and was offered the position. It proved to be a great fit as Alessandra has worked there for ten years. All her experiences of growing up in different countries and cultures, working with the mural projects, her art education, and public art knowledge have been brought to bear in her work at the college. She is eager to teach her students how to navigate the art world, giving them wide choices of opportunities to intern at museums, galleries, and wherever they can learn practical skills that may one day land them a job. Students at Mesa College learn all the practical aspects of curating and implementing art exhibitions in the six shows that are presented each year in the adjacent college art gallery. Alessandra also reaches out to many art programs in the community, alternative art spaces and other local colleges and universities. Currently she is part of the Arts and Culture Working Group of the San Diego Foundation which focuses on development of the arts in San Diego.
The mission of the Mesa College Art Gallery is to present a diverse range of approaches to art making for the student community. Alessandra presents many exhibitions that feature social, womens’ or environmental issues, and an emphasis on figurative and representational work as well as those with a Latina focus. Every few years she does a faculty exhibition called “Faculty Plus One” where each faculty member invites another artist to participate alongside the faculty members.
When asked about advice she might give to aspiring San Diego artists, she emphasizes the practical side – networking. Alessandra believes that there are many venues for artists in San Diego but that artists need to reach out and be proactive. This is the very same advice she has for her students and with a great deal of pride, Alessandra told me of many who have been successful, moving on to complete their degrees, some on to graduate programs, become professors, and have other jobs in art institutions.
The next big exhibition at the college opens September 6th, called “Seven Deadly Sins”, with guest curator Professor Beate Bermann-Enn. No doubt Alessandra’s students have played a big part in creating and installing the show. The show will be up through October 1st.
Any artists interested in learning practical skills and expanding their knowledge of how to participate successfully in the art world would be well served in the Museum Studies Program at Mesa College under the tutelage of Alessandra Moctezuma.