Dean Otto, Associate Curator, Film/Video, Walker Art Center

Dean Otto (Walker Art Center, Associate Curator, Film/Video) became active in film and video programming in 1985 at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. He joined the Film/Video Department at the Walker Art Center in 1995 where he co-curates the Expanding the Frame series and oversees work from the Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection, as well as the annual Queer Takes series. Otto is also co-curator of the MNTV series on Twin Cities Public Television. He has managed the international tour of the series Magnetic North at 17 sites and coordinated the residencies of Arthur Dong, Christian Marclay and Craig Baldwin.

What drew you to this work?
I was lucky to become involved in film and video programming through the Wisconsin Union Directorate at UW-Madison. They provided the training and support I needed to thrive as a programmer, but they also challenged me to think of ways that film can support and compliment other disciplines. This provided a strong basis in interdisciplinary programming and I was able to continue working in this manner at the Walker.

What keeps you engaged with this work?
Walker is like a laboratory for artists and provides opportunities for them to work outside their disciplines and to initiate partnerships internally and externally. This stimulates an entrepreneurial spirit and allows the artists opportunities to explore areas they’ve not had the chance to address in their work before. The partnerships give me access to resources and connections that can be stimulating and challenging, and greatly enhance the events.

What was the most pivotal moment of your leadership journey?
The most pivotal moment in my leadership journey was when I became the Vice-President for Programming at the Wisconsin Union Directorate at UW-Madison where I took on the responsibility of overseeing the work in many disciplines including theatre, art, music, dance, lectures, as well as film. I had to learn the how each of the areas programmed their work and the demands they faced. That helped me find opportunities to stimulate cross-disciplinary programming and to foster an environment where resources are shared. It’s something that is crucial in my position at the Walker.

What are your strengths as a leader? 
I feel that my strength as a leader is to make sure others have the resources they need—whether it’s knowledge-based or financial—to feel confident in working toward a shared goal. I’m very hands-off as a manager and focus on the end results empowering others to determine the solutions that best address the situation. I also know that I need to be able to jump in and assist in any part of the process if others are feeling overwhelmed or may need guidance or advice.

How do you stay on top of your game?
I realize that the game is always changing and one has to be flexible and adapt to new challenges and expectations. At an artist-driven institution, the artists are frequently the source of new expectations and solutions.

What are you working on that gets you excited and inspired? 
Lately more of my time has been spent on projects that will be exhibited in the galleries and that has meant learning new resources, connections and an economic scale which has been exciting and also informs my work in the cinema. This has been prompted by filmmakers who are now completing work that will be shown in a gallery and visual artists who are making work for the cinema.

I’ve also been inspired by the ideas of filmmakers Astra Taylor (Examined Life) and Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy) as their work calls for a space for contemplation and support for following roads that may lead to nowhere. As more of our time is mission-driven, multi-tasked, micromanaged with the expectation that we’re digitally connected and available at every moment, questions in their work have me considering the value of rumination and discovery that can result from an un-plugged lifestyle free from distraction.


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