My Catawba County
Five Questions: Jon Carfagno
“Five Questions” is a series of Q&As with local leaders and visionaries who are actively Making. Living. Better. in Catawba County. This month we're talking to Jon Carfagno, executive director of the Hickory Museum of Art.
What are the chief responsibilities of your role?
One of the things that I love best about my job is that it affords the chance to be involved in every aspect of the operation of a world class art museum. Every day is different and each one presents new opportunities. With that said, my primary responsibilities are to ensure that our board, team, volunteers, and audiences have a clear sense of the difference that Hickory Museum of Art makes in our community, why the work is important, how we will accomplish it, and the metrics and results that define success. Our strategic plans have been essential tools in guiding this work and I am grateful for the discipline and focus that our team has brought to implementing the action items they have entailed. On top of all this, I’d say my primary responsibility is to always be listening and striving to truly understand the ideas and perspectives of the many incredibility talented people and partners who share their energy, time, and skills with North Carolina’s second oldest, but most innovative art museum.
What is your vision for the community, and how are you working to achieve it?
One thing that differentiates Hickory Museum of Art from other places that I’ve worked is the primacy we place on playing an active role in enhancing the strength, vibrancy, and sustainability of our region. In order to create alignment between our exhibitions, programs, and key initiatives, we are constantly surveying our context and taking stock of how our efforts contribute to all that makes Catawba County a great place to call home. This process of looking outward has helped us to craft a mission that is very brief, but filled with meaning: To Bring People Together and Inspire Creativity through the Power of Art. We believe that there is a lot of power in these 12 words. To bring people together represents how we see the museum as a stage for people of all walks of life to connect with each other and learn together. To inspire creativity speaks into how our exhibitions and programs provide opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the creative process and get their hands dirty giving it a try. The power of art is the catalyst for all of it…for people to share in the experience of being moved and transformed by the awe-inspiring capacity of art. Nothing makes me happier than when people enter the galleries as individuals or with their own group, and then, by way of a work of art we’ve installed or an experience that we’ve created, they have a conversation with someone new. I believe that every single time this happens our community gets stronger, as visitors grow a little more open-minded and receptive to new ideas, people, and ways of seeing the world.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do, and why?
The most rewarding part of what I do is having a front row seat for the amazing things that happen every day at HMA. Each day, I come to work and witness how our team lives the museum’s six core values in everything that we do. From our workstations to the galleries to our programs, HMA looks and feels very different than most art museums. Across all areas of the museum, you will find dedicated people engaged in conversations centered on innovation, growth, and the power of possibility. This mindset defines not only our operations, but also how visitors and program participants see themselves after connecting with HMA. From Pint Size Picassos, to our Art for All Outreach Programs, to our classes for Adults, learners of all ages and backgrounds leave their encounters with HMA understanding that experimentation and challenging yourself are keys to unlocking the creativity and empathy that lives inside each of us.
On a personal note, what do you love about living in Catawba County?
There is so much that I love about living in Catawba County, so this is a really tough one to answer. I think a big part of what makes Catawba County so special is the pride that people take in doing jobs the right way. At HMA, I am always blown away by how deeply EVERYONE engages in the opportunities, goals, and big ideas that define our work. Having lived in our community for four and half years, I have found that this propensity toward digging in, collaborating, and building meaningful projects is a key characteristic of so many parts of our community. People here dream big and deliver!
What is the best advice you've been given, and how has it made a difference for you?
A management consultant who I met while working for a different museum once borrowed a quote from Lyndon Johnson when speaking about leadership, “Sometimes you’ve got to act like a jackass in a hailstorm. You’ve just got to stand there and take it.” What this statement means to me is that no matter how hard you try - how much listening, thinking, and collaborating you do - there will always be someone who is not happy with a direction that you take, a decision that you make, or an outcome. In those instances, all you can do is ensure that your actions line up with your values, ethics, and moral compass and then be prepared to absorb whatever comes next. If your heart is truly in the right place everything works out in the end.
Rapid Fire Round:
Early bird or night owl?
Mountains or beaches?
A little bit country or a little bit rock and roll?
Definitely, a lot bit rock and roll
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Eastern or Western BBQ?
What are you currently reading?
Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World by Pema Chodron