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Tucson’s Museum of Contemporary Art will again honor innovative locals this month with its Local Genius Awards Gala. But what about the genius minds behind MOCA itself? Executive director and chief curator Anne-Marie Russell talks stripes, civics, and the minds of children.


Early bird or night owl? “I don’t know anymore.  My whole life I was up with the sun, and down early (I’m a loser and missed a lot of great bands as a result).  My inability to stay up late also killed my spy career, albeit before it even started.  Recently, the flip switched, like the magnetism of the earth’s poles, upending my world.  I no longer spring awake at dawn with a smile on my face, and I’m often puttering late into the night, unable to sleep.  I miss the magical morning time in the summer, before the heat sets in, so I’m going to work to get up earlier this spring.  But I also seem to need that proverbial eight hours so I’m in a bit of a quandary on this one…”

Favorite accessory? “This makes me think of fashion and crime and other types of ‘accessories’.  Fave fashion accessory is a beautiful heavy silver link necklace that was a surprise gift from my fabulous partner. I never want to take it off, so I’ve actually parsed my wardrobe so I can wear it every day and it goes with everything. Also, I possess a staggeringly large collection of French striped sailor shirts, some dating to my childhood. I’ve worn them practically since birth and they are a staple of my wardrobe.  I never met a stripe I didn’t like.

Striped_shirts “As “support helper/partner” version of accessory, without question the MOCA crew, who are simply, individually and collectively, the most fabulous, cool, brilliant, fun and inspiring people imaginable. Together, with them, anything is possible.

“As the ‘ancillary to your body’ accessory, my least fave, though ubiquitous, accessory is my iPhone, which is sadly glued to my left hand in a way that makes me think of the line “you can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead hand”.   The week it broke was one of the best.   I was forced to do math in my head, look at a map before I left the house, reckon time by the sun, look up words in my OED, and generally remember what it’s like to work my brain.  I will be a late adopter to the Google glasses phenom, for sure.”

Favorite faux pas? “Too many to recount, from pratfalls to Freudian slips during lectures to uttering the word ‘viscount’. But mixing metaphors is my most common misstep.  Mistakenly combining two well-worn metaphors, I once exclaimed ‘That’s gravy on the cake!’, which took two things that are great and put them together to make something pretty gross.”

Who is your dream customer? “Without question kids are the best ‘customers’, or in our case visitors/viewers.  They are the most open-minded, most excited to see something they’ve never seen before, most grateful for the experience.  This extends to adults who have managed to maintain a Buddhist ‘beginner’s mind’ sensibility, to retain their quality of childlike wonder and curiosity, and willingness to be awed and surprised.”

If I weren’t a museum director I would… “There are so many things I am deeply interested in and passionate about:  science literacy, prison reform, wrongful incarceration of innocents, separation of church and state, keeping creationism out of our public school curricula. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d research, write and advocate about those things.”

If I could change one thing I would… “I’d like to make ethics 101 and econ 101 compulsory in all public high school curricula. I think we’d have a better citizenry if we introduced those discursive practices earlier on in life.  ‘Civics’ used to be a thing. Not so much anymore.  And better financial literacy would help us all navigate our complex system. I mean, who even understands what a synthetic derivative is anyway?  And yet it’s one of the reasons so many people have lost their homes to foreclosure.

“I’d also like to see Local Genius Awards held in every community.”

* MOCA Tucson’s Local Genius Awards Gala, honoring visionary and innovative Tucsonans who make an impact worldwide, takes place April 12th. This year’s awardees include architect Rick Joy and ecologist Dr. Gary Nabhan. Visit MOCA at 265 South Church Avenue, or at

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