Susie Farr, “Seeker”
As the Executive Director of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Susie Farr is devoted to the creative process.
I came to the Center as executive director in 1999. Since then I have told many people that I have the best job in the country, maybe the best job in the world.
From the beginning, we wanted the Center to be a place rich in thought, the way a research university is rich in thought. From that idea, we developed the mission of transforming lives through sustained engagement with the arts. I’m proud of the diversity of our programming and the way we open many different doors to transformative experiences. In some ways, it makes me think of my own journey.
From the beginning, we wanted the Center to be a place rich in thought, the way a research university is rich in thought.
When I was a child, growing up in a little mill town just south of Pittsburgh, there was a national program called the Civic Music Association, guilds of concerned citizens who wanted to bring good music to their small towns. My mother often took me to hear the distinguished artists they presented in our high school auditorium. When I was in high school myself, my grandmother took me to see Tartuffe with Rene Auberjonois at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. I was transfixed by the production values and the amazing acting. I’d never read Tartuffe, I didn’t know what a “tartuffe” was but it made me a diehard fan of Moliére. A few months later, she took me to see Edward Albee’s Tiny-Alice and this completely mysterious play sent me away with a lot to think about. It made me hungry for work that I don’t know.
I’m always curious. I want to know more about what other people think, about how they arrived at their ideas and opinions.
Then when I was in college I made my first trip to New York by myself and it was quite the big deal, a kid from the small mill town goes to New York. I went to the Museum of Modern Art, wandering around the galleries, and came across Picasso’s “Guernica,” which I had studied in college. I’d seen pictures of it and knew it was important but it wasn’t until I stood in front of it as the Vietnam War was heating up that I actually grasped the meaning. I will never forget that moment. All of a sudden those abstract shapes on the page were fraught with power and meaning in my life.
You really never know where the arts will lead you. For me, an invitation to sing led to a completely unexpected involvement with Western Presbyterian Church in DC. I had grown up in a small Protestant church in western Pennsylvania and at 18, with the great wisdom that being 18 brings you, had decided that the church was not taking enough of a role in the Civil Rights Movement so I walked away. Then in the 1980s, while traveling to a performing arts conference, I ended up in a long talk with an arts education leader and choir director who invited me to come and sing in the choir at Western.
There’s no better place to be if you’re curious than around the arts.
Singing in the choir was tremendously rewarding and I discovered that the church also had an inspiring pastor who is committed to social justice. I found Western to be a place that welcomes people who are seekers. That appeals to me because I’m always questioning. I’m always curious. I want to know more about what other people think, about how they arrived at their ideas and opinions. and there’s no better place to be if you’re curious than around the arts.