By Beth Treffeisen
Bouncing from desk to desk as his new office gets some new carpeting, Gregory Ruffer, the new president and CEO of the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), was at the end of his second week of work at his new job.
“It’s just been two weeks that I’ve been here and I am very happy that I made the switch,” said Ruffer, adding that he also loved his previous job. “But, there’s just so much energy here.”
The BCA is a not-for-profit performing and visual arts complex that supports working artists to create, perform, and exhibit new works. It sits on a 2.2-acre multi-arts campus in the South End that provides studio, theater, rehearsal, exhibition, and event space.
Ruffer, who started on August 1, is succeeding Veronique Le Melle who ran the organization for seven years and left the position in January to become executive director of ArtPace in San Antonio, Texas.
Le Melle’s work at the BCA included expanding the visual, performing and public art programming along with establishing relationships with neighborhood associations and local politicians.
Now, Ruffer has the job of continuing to expand the 46-year-old organization.
“I’m really excited about where this place can go,” said Ruffer. “My job is not fixing things but I get to dream and move it forward.”
He added that in many non-profits that’s not the case and he is very excited that he gets to continue the incredible work already done at the BCA.
Ruffer comes from being the President and CEO of Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee, the oldest and largest community music school in that state. He has 20 years of experience in non-profit arts management along with a strong background in community building, audience engagement, and fundraising.
Ruffer followed his husband who was hired by the Boston Ballet a year ago. They had lived three years apart and although he treasured his past job it wasn’t the best family situation.
As he gets to make Boston home Ruffer said he enjoyed not owning a car and being able to walk everywhere. He added, “It’s so exciting to be in a place where there is so much life.”
As he gets to learn the neighborhood, he hopes to bring the BCA to the forefront as a major part in community.
“It’s a central part of Boston culture,” said Ruffer. “I don’t think that we are not valued but that they don’t know all of what we are.”
He foresees both residents and tourists walking through the South End and experiencing the BCA as they walk through the plaza or attend the Beehive to grab a drink and listen to jazz.
“When you look back over the history, in large cities it’s the artists who create the vibrancy of the cities,” said Ruffer. “We are the place – not the only place – where artists have influence over the South End and in turn influencing the entire city.”
Another step would be to look at all of the things that the BCA is currently doing and see if it can be diversified even more, said Ruffer.
For many artists the costs of living or renting a space in the South End is too high and many of the larger institutions can’t afford to showcase some of the more experimental artwork, making the BCA a refuge for professionals trying to get their foot in the door.
Even though the BCA has a small staff and operating budget Ruffer hopes to continue to create a space for artists to experiment, re-work, and showcase their art that otherwise might not be seen by the public.
Currently, Ruffer is working on learning the history of the BCA and making sure that the goals for those who already put work into the organization are met.
Otherwise, he hopes to get the community in to the BCA to see all of the cool things that are happening.
“Sometimes people just don’t see what’s there,” said Ruffer. “We have to make it so that [the BCA] is such a bright, shiny object that people can’t look away.”
The next event at the BCA will be the “Art of the Cocktail” on August 29 from 6-8pm. There you can meet up with friends and neighbors among the art and artists on their historic campus. Privateer Rum will walk guests through the distillation process and how to craft killer cocktails at home.
In September, the BCA will be hosting “Movers & Shakers”, an annual event where Boston’s best restaurants and caterers compete to craft a cocktail worthy of being called a work of art.
Tickets for both these events can be found at www.bcaonline.org