Montgomery Women recently recognized Krista Bradley with its 2016 Rising Star Award. “Krista exemplifies the very best qualities of women in leadership and is a wonderful personification of our mission of launching women leaders,” said Tedi Osias, board president of Montgomery Women.
Bradley, BlackRock Center for the Arts’ executive director, said she was thrilled to receive the award and was especially proud that it recognized her for arts innovation. “For us to be recognized by an organization that cares about Montgomery County and the quality of life here, that felt really good,” she said. “It was validation that we’re at least trying to do the right thing and that people appreciate that we’re trying to be different and innovative. … It’s so easy to be a presenter that just presents the same old, same old. It’s very easy and safe, and I’m not interested in easy or safe all of the time.”
Bradley began her tenure with BlackRock in 2012. During that time, she has increased audience participation by more than 30 percent, a success she attributes to BlackRock’s focus on programming that engages a diverse community. In addition to world music and global voices, BlackRock is a presenter of contemporary circus and in December, received a National Endowment for the Arts circus arts grant.
A growing trend in the U.S., contemporary circus has long thrived in Europe, and Bradley is part of the movement to bring these great European performers to America. “I got bitten by the circus bug when I went to Montreal one year,” she explained. “We wrote to the Montreal Consulate and said we would like to go to Complètement Cirque, which is a big festival that happens in the summer, and they helped pay for us to go and we saw a lot of work. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing.’ I haven’t been that excited about performing arts stuff in a long time that’s new and is cross-disciplinary and has so much potential.”
Contemporary circus differs from the traditional three-ring Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey style in that “it is less about act, act, act,” Bradley said. “Sometimes it (contemporary circus) has more of a story to it, sometimes it has a level of theatricality that brings everything together, sometimes it’s simply for the fun of it.” Varieties of contemporary circus include street and urban circus, as well as dry circus that showcases stripped down but amazing feats.
Bradley traveled to Barcelona and Sweden last year to learn more about circus, connect with people and network with similar venues. She also applied for and was selected to participate in Autopistes: Circus Dissemination, a European Union program dedicated to strengthening the contemporary circus circuit by engaging venues and audiences in North America. This month, she traveled to Stockholm, Sweden. “We are partnering with the Swedish Consulate to host two members of Cirkus Cirkör, which is the national Swedish circus, here next month,” she said. “It was good to be able to see the showcase of work, new and upcoming work … and also meet with peers.”
Bradley is excited about the democratic nature of circus, and how it engages the diverse community that BlackRock serves. “What’s so wonderful about circus is not only that it crosses so many genres but it crosses ages, it crosses culture, it crosses language,” she said. “Like dance, it’s a great art form for multi-lingual audiences. For BlackRock—we (Germantown residents) were noted as the second most diverse city in the country last year—it’s perfect. We’ve got lots of ages and lots of ethnicities and lots of languages, so it’s a wonderful equalizer.”
For Bradley, who upon graduation from Brown University put aside a New York City advertising position to intern with the Virginia Opera, the arts are about connecting with everyone. “We provide opportunities for people to find their way in (to the arts), and we believe everybody should have equal access to the work and have a meaningful experience with it,” she said. “There’s something universal about the arts that can touch people in ways that language or other things can’t. There’s an ineffable nature about art that makes us human, and I think it’s a real connector for everyone regardless of their age or their language or their background or their orientation.”
Another program that facilitates connection is BlackRock’s documentary film series, one that “explores issues that are important and creates conversations,” Bradley said. On April 3, BlackRock partnered with Busboys and Poets to bring a Deaf Poetry Jam to the arts venue when the film “Deaf Jam,” about an American Sign Language poet and Israeli immigrant who lives Queens and a hearing Palestinian slam poet, was screened.
BlackRock is currently working on a strategic plan that will bring more programming “to resonate with the community,” Bradley said. Recognizing that part of Montgomery County’s diversity is its rural community and the Agricultural Reserve, she said that BlackRock will build an “Agri-Culture” arts program in the coming year.
Given Bradley’s innovative programming, it is apparent that BlackRock and the community it serves have hitched a ride on a rising star. The 2016 Montgomery Women’s Rising Star Award “felt great for BlackRock to get recognized for the work that we’re doing,” Bradley emphasized, “because we struggle when people say ‘You’re too far away’ or ‘I never heard of BlackRock.’ … That’s a battle cry for me.” One that she is determined to meet.