The new artistic director of OZ Arts comes to Nashville as a leader in his field.
Mark Murphy has run high-profile contemporary arts centers in Seattle and Los Angeles and has worked with the National Endowment for the Arts. WPLN’s Natasha Senjanovic sat down with Murphy to talk about his vision for OZ, which turned five this year and just received its first NEA grant.
Listen to the full interview above or read the interview highlights below.
On coming to Nashville after Seattle and Los Angeles, which have some of the largest, most thriving contemporary arts spaces in the country:
MM: “I’d been hearing about OZ Arts and its development in Nashville since before it opened. There’s also similarities, I think, between Seattle of the ’90s and Nashville of today. That was a time when we were moving from grunge rock to other forms of counterculture emerging as the high-tech industry was growing so quickly. Here in Nashville, the city is becoming more international as the universities expand and as the technological sector expands here. Along with that comes taking more risks. It’s a very young city, there are a lot of people moving here, and it has a great cultural history and tradition — and a lot of room to play.”
On expanding OZ’s national and international programming:
MM: “Examples include an artist from Japan who is working with multiple forms of projection, as well as movement and a dance vocabulary. Or a group from Chicago mixing live video with puppetry … And a group from Brazil — some of these dancers are from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro and are among the most sophisticated movers and hip-hop-influenced dancers I have ever witnessed.”
NS: In a city like Nashville, where you have to build on a growing but still small contemporary arts audience, how do you decide what the city, what audiences aren’t ready for yet?
MM: “That’s a great question because audience development is a phrase we use in the arts generally to mean marketing or finding an audience. But I define it also as helping an audience become further engaged in a conversation about what the artists are trying to do as they merge different disciplines and forms.
“Some of the artists are working in radical ways, and are provocative. It’s also important the audience be drawn in and prepared for that, so that they aren’t left out, and antagonized in some way. Of course, I used to do punk rock too, where antagonizing them was a part of it, but hopefully you can find the right balance.”
NS: Nashville has this reputation as being the ‘It City,’ but it does just have one contemporary arts space, one arthouse cinema, one fringe theater. What do you think it needs at this stage?
MM: “I get the sense that all of the organizations working together know that they can and should grow, but they don’t seem to be competing. They seem to be wanting to cooperate, and that is the key to building a really meaningful culture for a city.
A great city needs a great symphony, it needs a great classical art scene, it also needs an organization that’s pushing the envelope and is working together with those organizations to predict or help influence the future. And it’s a very young city with a very bright future, and OZ Arts is an important part of it.”
Mark Murphy will introduce the new season of OZ Arts when the current season ends, in May.