Steve MacQueen is headed north. Way north. The director since 2007 of the 7 Days of Opening Nights Performing Arts Festival in Tallahassee, Fla., has been selected as the new artistic director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington. MacQueen follows the 15-year tenure of Arnie Malina, who retired this spring.
Stylistically, the match seems ideal: The 7 Days fest website indicates programming that's "closely aligned" with the Flynn's mix of "world-class artists in jazz, dance, roots music, family entertainment, theater, world music and more," according to a press announcement released today. In addition, MacQueen appears to be steeped in experiences with commissioning new works, educational outreach, and forming community partnerships.
For his part, MacQueen says he is thrilled to come to the Flynn, both because of the venue's stellar reputation in the arts-presenting world, and because of the cultural community. And MacQueen, 48, is no stranger to moving around. A self-described "Air Force brat," he says he grew up relocating constantly. The family landed in Florida when he was in middle school, and he stayed, later attending Florida State University — home of the 7 Days festival. In between college and programming performing arts, he was a newspaper reporter. And he's always been in bands — though MacQueen is humorously self-deprecating about his musical talent.
Clearly, Flynn executive director John Killacky and the board saw plenty of talent in MacQueen: He won out in a field of "79 applicants from all over the country, and London," according to the Flynn's statement. Flynn board chair Peter Erly notes MacQueen's strong programming background and compatibility with the Burlington venue, adding, "[W]e have been very impressed by Steve's collaborative nature and his vision for new potential future directions for the Flynn."
Seven Days chatted with MacQueen by phone in advance of his arrival in Burlington, on June 1, and found him a genial, bright and funny fellow. This is the unexpurgated interview.
SEVEN DAYS: So, we have three things in common: "seven days," journalism and rock bands.
STEVE MACQUEEN: Yes, I saw the paper when I was up there interviewing. Mine [7 Days] is kind of a random name; the series has never been seven days a week. But it's branding, I guess. It works.
SD: The second thing is journalism. I read that's what you did before you got into the arts-presenting world.
SM: Yes, I was a reporter for nine years, first for an independent paper for a year on the cops and local news beat. I didn't like that very much — it was depressing. So then I switched to the Tallahassee Democrat ... for seven years. I much preferred covering the arts.
SD: So you're not from Florida.
SM: No, I was an Air Force brat — we went from one unglamorous town to the next. Then we ended up [in Florida]. I went over to Florida State University. I went to the paper at the end of a long and undistinguished career in college — I really didn't do very well. I was a very shallow individual as a teenager. But I was busy — I went to see a lot of stuff in music and theater. I just didn't do well in class.
I got my master's here [in arts administration] when I came to 7 Days. I would have gotten a 4.0, except I missed a class to go see a Leonard Cohen concert. It was one of the greatest shows I've seen and totally worth losing a point for. I paid $160 for Leonard. There's a super-short list of people I'd pay that much for.
SD: The other thing we have in common is being in bands. Are you still in Reba Seeger?
SM: I'm generally in a band. I guess we're about to break up. We've only played a couple times, though — mostly it's been a few bottles of wine and fooling around with a tape recorder.
SD: I read about Reba Seeger in a previous article about you I found online. Your description of the band — "Gothic truck stop disco" — is hilarious.
SD: So maybe the band is rock relief, or perhaps comic, from some of the more highbrow offerings of the performing-arts organizations you've worked for?
SM: I've just always been in rock bands. It's a good relief, but I'm very much in touch with my lack of actual talent. That's why God invented rock and roll, for guys like me. I know some guys who are really talented, though. I'm marginally better on the guitar than I was 25 years ago.
SD: Speaking of performing arts: I was looking at the lineup for 7 Days, and it looks pretty parallel with what the Flynn Center and the UVM Lane Series present. But perhaps all of you are at the mercy of who is touring at any given time?
SM: Circumstance plays a huge role, yes.
SD: What, if any, changes can you see making at the Flynn down the road? Or is it premature to ask?
SM: It might be a little premature. I want to spend a little time getting to know everyone and the community. Ultimately we'll want to move forward in some way, but the community plays a huge part of it, and I don't want to come in with any preconceived notions.
SD: What attracted you to this position at the Flynn?
SM: Oh, boy. So many things, multiple things. One is the Flynn itself. It has a reputation in the field as an excellent place that brings in great performers. In my last two jobs, I've been it — a director without a full-time staff. I can do the other [administrative] stuff, but I did it to get to the programming. This job is mainly programming, which is what I love.
And I was very taken with John Killacky — he seems like a great guy to work for. The community plays a role, too. I don't want to sound negative, but I'm not a Southerner, yet I've been here 34 of the last 36 years. [He was in New York two years.] I'm ready to try a blue state.
SD: Did you know John, or Arnie Malina, previously from arts-presenting circles?
SM: No. I'd heard their names but not met them.
SD: Ever been to Vermont before?
SM: No, not till I went for the interview. It was so beautiful!
SD: Were you here during the two days of summer we had last month?
SM: Yes. I went walking around on Church Street without a jacket. I brought a coat and didn't get to wear it.
SD: You're coming here with your family — I assume you're still married?
SM: Yes, I'm not leaving her behind. I'm moving up with my wife, Kim, and two daughters, Claire and Rose, who are 13 and 8.
SD: Is there anything you want to tell me about your impending tenure at the Flynn?
SM: Hmm. Well, my timing is good: June 1, the first day of the [Burlington Discover] Jazz Festival. And [jazz pianist] Marcus Roberts is playing. He's a friend of mine who lives down here, actually. I've done a lot of projects with him. His talent is full-board genius. If we had to get licenses to be musicians, he would get one and I would not.
SD: Well, I look forward to meeting you in June.
SM: Me, too. I can't wait to get there!