I was fortunate to meet Constance White a few years ago when my work was selected for a solo exhibition, ‘Floating in Space’ at Terminal 2. White is the Art Program Manager for the San Diego International Airport. On the morning of our interview, she rushed in a few minutes late, understandably because of the many commitments she has to her work as well as to her family in Texas who she visits regularly.
White grew up in Avinger, Texas, a town of a few hundred people in the eastern part of the state. She talked about walking to elementary school down a dirt road, and spending her free time playing with the ten children she shared a home with as she was raised by her grandparents. It was there she began drawing with crayons and making things out of whatever objects or things were lying around, never really thinking about them as “art” per se. Many of the children in her home were boys so she played a lot of sports and this influence saw her through fourteen years of playing softball. When she graduated high school, White moved to Dallas.
White attended Dallas County Community College where she earned an Associates Degree in Arts and Sciences. While at college, she took art history classes with Gordon Young, an instructor who became her mentor and friend. There, she was also introduced to arts and culture as a whole, as well as taking drawing, design and other studio art classes. After completing her Associates Degree, Constance went on to Southern Methodist University where she first majored in Journalism but felt a stronger pull to art. She studied Art History and that became her major, and English her minor. Together with school and working to pay for all her expenses, Constance was a single mom of a daughter, Asia. Still, in spite of these challenges, she successfully completed her BFA in Art History.
White describes herself as a very spiritual person and talked about a woman who she met in a statistics class who became her close friend as well as a pivotal person in setting the course of her career. Matilda Robinson was an older affluent woman who was involved in the arts and culture of Dallas who took Constance under her wing, thinking of her as her daughter. Robinson knew the Director of Cultural Affairs in Dallas and introduced White to her. She interviewed with Margie Johnson Reese, and was hired as Public Art Assistant where she remained for a year. She was then promoted to Public Art Coordinator, a job she worked in for eight years. There, Constance managed projects with a budget ranging from $3,000 - over $1 million, many of which were design team collaborations resulting in integration of public art into the city's infrastructure. Arts-based community development and community partnerships were important to the success of the many projects she managed.
When talking about her career goals, White stated “I wanted to do something to impact the place I live.” And that, she definitely has accomplished. Since obtaining her position as Art Program Manager in July 2006, she has successfully completed the Airport Art Master Plan which included formalizing the framework and guidelines for the three components of the Airport Art Program: Temporary and Rotating Exhibits, Performing Arts and Public Art. In addition to overseeing renovations on existing faciilites, Constance manages public art projects for the “Green Build”, the airport master plan for adding ten additional gates, and other improvements. When working with the many artists, engineers, committees, etc., White asks folks to not bring any preconceived notions to the table, but asks them to “imagine the possibilities”.
Managing multi-million dollar public art projects simultaneously, White says that her biggest challenge is in navigating the many committees, public relations, marketing, engineering, maintenance and other departments involved in the highly complex universe of the San Diego International Airport. We look forward to seeing the fully realized installations coming in the years ahead.