Interview and article by Cathy Breslaw
The Oceanside Museum of Art is a regional museum of San Diego county which has seen large overall growth in the last several years in both the size and scope of its spaces, staff and exhibitions. Six months ago Daniel Foster was hired to be the Executive Director and in our interview, Foster discussed his background and what led to his joining the Oceanside Museum. He also articulated proposed plans for its future.
Daniel Foster was born and raised in Woodland Hills, California. He is the oldest of two children born to a father who is a nuclear physicist and mother who is a homemaker. While growing up, he wasn’t focused on any particular subject area but commented that he was “curious and loved learning”. Foster spent his first two years of college at the University of California, San Diego in Revelle College which he describes as having given him a “renaissance education that combined the sciences and math with the humanities”. Foster commented that this was where he “discovered his philosophical soul”. To complete his college education, he transferred to the University of Southern California where he majored in Business Administration. Prior to attending USC however, he spent a year traveling through Europe, having craved an “experiential pursuit of knowledge”.
Fighting pressures to pursue a traditional career path, Foster saw himself as a “staunch individualist”. Rather than following the corporate route in business school, he was attracted to the Entreprenurial Program at USC. He wanted to be part of creating products and ideas that were innovative and “made the world a better place”. Foster described himself as not a “hands on” creator, being more interested in academic, book knowledge. While studying business he realized that creating and running businesses are more about the sweat of the day to day technical side, and very little having to do with creativity and innovation. He asked himself “How can I be both practical and live as an inventor and be creative?”
|James Hubbell "Group of Horses", bronze|
Foster often visited museums and galleries and was in San Diego when he happened to see a Walter Wojtyla exhibition. Having seen Wojtyla’s work was a pivotal moment in Foster’s life and having realized that Wojtyla used prismacolors, he went down to the local art store and bought prismacolor pencils. He was determined to fill the walls of his new place in La Jolla with his own art. He was in his 20’s and he wanted to make the most of his creative moment. He described this time as a “deep intimate journey” where he set aside the material aspirations of earning a living, to create art. He supported himself in a combination of part time jobs – selling jewelry and working in restaurants, galleries and museums, to working in the adult education program at the San Diego Art Institute. Foster commented that he is a “non-careerist” and that it is his belief that “taking care of today” is the path one should take. So he put his faith in his ‘dream’ and signed up for classes in the visual art department at UCSD. He worked with several of the faculty there, gaining insight and feedback about his work. He spent three to four years working on various bodies of work that included painting, photography, and poetry. When he was sure he had gone as far as he could with his work at UCSD, he decided to get an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. He completed his degree in both New Genres and Painting/Sculpture and then went to work at the residency program of the Headland Center for the Arts in Sausalito where he spent two years. Interestingly enough, Foster has never exhibited or sold any of his art work.
After his many years of art-making, Foster applied for a position as Executive Director for the Riverside Museum of Art. Admittedly, he felt he may not have had the background for some of the aspects of the job, but he felt he made up for it in his vision, philosophy and passion for the museum. The Board of Directors agreed and he was hired. He worked as Executive Director for the Riverside Museum from 2003-2009.
Foster had very specific ideas about how he wanted to run the Riverside Museum. He believed the number one mission was to take care of the artists in the community, and where some museums tend to marginalize artists, his was going to include them. He believes many museums take a “country club approach” by focusing on the patrons, members and collectors - his was going to center things around artists. During his tenure at Riverside,he increased the number of exhibitions from 10-12 per year up to 25-30 shows per year, shortening the runs of each exhibition but giving the community more eclectic shows to experience. The museum also operated many educational programs for artists that ranged from setting up critique groups, to holding lectures, to workshops that centered on teaching artists about how to run a successful art career.
|Flavia Gilmore, "Its Alright", assemblage|
While at the Riverside Museum of Art, Foster was approached to become the CEO for the Riverside and San Bernadino Counties Community Foundation. This public, non profit foundation, is one of 770 in the U.S. that focus on charitable activities to improve the quality of life for its citizens. Foster took this position as he realized that this opportunity gave him the chance to change peoples’ lives. During his time there, he accomplished his goals to improve education, environmental issues, and to establish an arts and culture plan for the communities in those counties. He helped build a San Bernadino Arts Council, raising $250 thousand dollars for this organization. He remains as Board Chair and wants to see that this council sets up an arts and cultural organization in San Bernadino. Foster believes that building the arts and culture in an area greatly improves the overall life of the entire community.
In the spring of 2012, Foster was contacted by a board member at the Oceanside Museum of Art, letting him know there was a vacant position for Executive Director. Encouraged to apply and having also thought seriously about returning to San Diego, Foster applied and was selected to become the new Executive Director of the museum. Foster believes that strengthening the arts and culture of the Oceanside community is central to its’ becoming an economically sound city. Foster had been watching the development of the museum for several years and was impressed with the growth of its new building, membership and outstanding exhibition schedule.
Foster outlined several plans for the museum. Central to his plan, is to build what he calls an “Oceanside Cultural Consortium” – a group of both business and arts groups and to develop a collaboration among these groups. He wants the focus of the exhibitions to be on southern California artists, and to make collectors a priority. He intends to encourage regular exhibitions of San Diego collectors’ collections and to build an association between collectors and artists. Foster intends to greatly increase the usage of the building to include outside classes and an outside sculpture garden, to open a new gallery space on the basement level with an art instruction classroom for youth and adult art classes, and to do community outreach by expanding into satellite spaces in Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe and Escondido. He also wants to facilitate monthly Art Walks for the community, and to encourage the building of artists studio/lofts in Oceanside. Long term he wants to aggressively fundraise and lead an expansion of the physical spaces of the museum in the city of Oceanside.
No doubt Daniel Foster has some ambitious plans for the Oceanside Museum of Art and we welcome his passion and enthusiasm for growing the arts and culture of San Diego county communities.
*Note: Art images are selections from current exhibitions at the Oceanside Museum of Art