Franconia Sculpture Park’s new executive director is ready to perform an extreme art-park makeover.

“ ‘Big ideas, big art’ has been the tagline, but for me I am thinking about ‘contemporary art for contemporary times,’ ” Ginger Shulick Porcella said over an antipasti plate at Alma recently.

A Chicago native, Porcella, 38, has black hair and many tattoos, including MAYA on the fingers of one hand, for one of her two dogs, Maya Papaya (the other is Radio McGriddles). She moved here with her pups and husband, Don, earlier this summer from Arizona, where she was executive director at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson for two years.

She’s worked on both coasts, from San Diego to New York City, and is now back in the Midwest with the mission of transforming Franconia after founding executive director John Hock was fired for “inappropriate conduct toward a young female artist.”

A free, 43-acre park northeast of the Twin Cities, near Taylors Falls, Franconia features more than 100 sculptures in a rural setting where visitors can observe resident artists at work. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Q: Franconia was without an executive director for a year before you were hired in July. What did the board and the community tell you they were looking for?

A: The idea of “big art” has really been central to Franconia, and I think they wanted to progress beyond that. There’s something to be said for thinking big but I don’t necessarily think the best pieces are big art. A lot of the works were created by white men and I know that they really wanted to reach out to a broader demographic of artists — queer artists, women, artists of color, Native artists. My background working with artists of all different backgrounds was a huge draw.

 

Q: You have a master’s degree in sociocultural anthropology from Columbia University. How does this work inform your vision?

A: I definitely approach curating from more of an anthropological standpoint. Sculpture, performance, film, dance — to me it is all cultural production. Art historians often think about art as this one thing, and it’s very based in the medium. I don’t really care about the medium. I am more about how to engage audiences. I am more interested in curating shows outside of the institution, the white box.

I think that is why I came to Franconia. I am interested in curating in these wide-open spaces, more than being in a room and having art in it.

 

Q: What do you think you’ll do differently from founding director John Hock?

A: I come from a different background, I am a woman, my priorities are probably elsewhere. I think we both believe in artist development and community. This organization is 20 years old for a reason. It’s grown and will continue to grow and evolve.

While I think before the focus was really on the residency program, which I agree is important, I want to shift our focus toward audiences and community and be outward-facing instead of inward-facing. We are going to be doing advertising and outreach, and focusing more on the idea of an outdoor museum and what that looks like. I think Franconia has always been thought of as a residency program with sculptures. I am thinking the reverse: We are a sculpture park and yes, we also have a residency program.

 

Q: What other changes can people expect at the park?

A: We will be doing a summer solstice performance festival on June 20. I just met with Twin Cities artist Laura Levinson, who did the Dumpster Fire performance at Franconia last May, to talk about how we can work with local artists and bring in national and international artists specifically linked to ritual. It will be more of a nighttime event.

In April 2020, we will be bringing in Chicago-based artist Alberto Aguilar for two weeks to live on site and do interventions that will culminate in a big event on April 24, which is International Sculpture Day. In the budget next year we are setting aside money for commissions not linked to the residency program. Alberto’s work is a part of that. We will also be commissioning four pieces per year from renowned artists, focusing largely on artists of color, female artists, queer artists. This summer we will also have a three-week installation camp for kids.

I really want to develop a fellowship program for Native artists. Over the next few months we’ll have community meetings with different tribal members and Native artists/leaders about what that could look like for Franconia — something that the community is creating by and for themselves. We are really expanding the language around sculpture and what that means. We are also making sure that artists who do performance and social practice know that this is for them.

 

Q: Will you be removing any sculptures?

A: The sculptures here are supposed to be temporary, up for only two years, and a lot of them have been up for way longer than that. Heather Hart’s “Northern Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off the Mother” [the roof of a house built into the ground] was up for 10 years. We just removed it. We did an Instagram story with people’s memories of that piece. Everyone loved that piece and now it’s gone and we are sad about it. But we are probably moving out a lot of sculptures in the coming years to literally and metaphorically make room for the new.