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New chapter at Scottsdale Arts sparked by passion, commitment & Wuestemann

A view of Dr. Gerd Wuestemann, who serves as president and CEO at Scottsdale Arts, May 2022 in his office at Civic Center Plaza. (Photo by Arianna Grainey/

Scottsdale Arts turns corner, relishes new & exciting experiences

By Terrance Thornton| Digital Free Press

Gerd Wuestemann grew up in rural Germany along what historians call a demarcation line, one of the last vestiges of World War II, and notably an acoustic guitar savant who traveled the world performing.

But the greatest performance of his professional artistic career could be just around the corner.

Today, Dr. Wuestemann, who holds a doctorate degree in musical arts from the University of Arizona, serves as president and CEO at Scottsdale Arts.

For Dr. Wuestemann the Scottsdale Arts entity, its public art installations, landmark venues & destination performances are standing on the precipice of a pivotal movement in how the artistic community — and worldwide audience — will come to know “The West’s Most Western Town” for generations to come.

“Let’s call it submersible,” he said in late May 2022 at his office at Civic Center Plaza. “It is the art; you see driving by or when you are walking in Old Town Scottsdale or driving Loop 101. Today, you can experience it under your feet.”

As he finished his sentence, he looked out over his second-floor office and smirked noting the abundance of construction that will one day sprout a 22-acre Scottsdale Arts campus.

The mission of Scottsdale Arts is to “develop, advance and deliver high-quality arts, cultural experiences, and opportunities in Scottsdale to residents, cultural institutions, artists, and visitors from around the world.”

Dr. Wuestemann sees the effort as a multidisciplinary one.

“It engages the community — it inserts color into our daily lives and, here in Scottsdale, it is there for you every day,” he said.

From a chief executive perspective, Dr. Wuestemann says, art can take different forms, from photography and digital art to modern dance and public art installations, Scottsdale Arts aims to meet those needs.

“Technology has changed the arts field forever and our leadership wants the organization to take the lead on this,” he said of how Scottsdale Arts is evolving with emerging views of artistic expression. “Scottsdale is no longer the city it was 20 or 30 years ago. We now open the door to how art is speaking to younger generations.”

Broken down to brick-and-mortar — a part of the November 2019 voter-approved capital improvement bond projects — Scottsdale Arts played a role in helping to devise the Civic Center special events epicenter. Highlights include:

  • On the western corridor will be an event space coined, “school yard” meant to activate the west entry;
  • A 2,500-square-foot wedding lawn space meant to take advantage of the picturesque landscape;
  • The “West Bowl” that is to become a 17,780-square-foot, 360-degree event structure;
  • The “Civic Lawn” concept will also be a 360-degree event structure boasting a capacity for 2,633 patrons; and
  • The “East Bowl” where just over 2,700 visitors will experience state-of-the-art artistic expression experiences.

Dr. Wuestemann says the upcoming January 2023 completion date for the second phase of Civic Center improvements cannot come soon enough.

“We are eagerly waiting when we can bring that young diverse audience into the arts,” she said. “In recent years, the interest in new ways of experiencing art is super charged. The involvement of technology goes further, and it has taught us how to teach our community in diverse ways.”

From day No. 1, Brian Passey knew he wanted to be a part of working for a professional arts organization. (Photo by Arianna Grainey/

Good work, brings good people

Not too long ago, Brian Passey, Scottsdale Arts communications manager, was a new hire at a premiere arts organization and performing arts center.

The Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts is at 7380 E 2nd St. in Old Town.

“It really has been a wonderful experience,” he said. “I have had two promotions, which I know speak to Gerd’s relationship with his staff and his leadership abilities.”

From day No. 1, Mr. Passey knew he wanted to be a part of working for a professional arts organization. One of his first assignments coming out of the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic validated his pursuit of happiness.

“One of the very first events in amidst just coming out of the pandemic, we had a show at the amphitheater, and I was doing photos,” he said.

“One of the people attending stopped me while I was taking photos — I look like a reporter, I guess — and he asked me, ‘are you a reporter,’ to which I replied, ‘no, I am with Scottsdale Arts.’ He stopped put his hand on my shoulder and he thanked me. He said, ‘thank you, we need this.’”

Mr. Passey says the above narrative is what the arts can do for any community, and Scottsdale is no exception.
“That sums it up for me,” he said. “We create these moving, soul stirring arts experiences that are not just things that become a part of the rest of someone’s day. These experiences, these memories, stay with them.”

Mr. Passey offers his work gives him purpose.

“That is something that is really life affirming,” he said pointing out another branch of Scottsdale Arts. “People with memory problems, we serve those populations as well. It is moving to see the work that you do really does mean something to people.”

The Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation programs support a wide range of nonprofit efforts supporting those in need, aging or living with a difficult disability or medical diagnosis.

The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, which today is the keystone venue at Civic Center, but upon completion of the revitalization of the municipal complex, will become one piece of the open-air a part of the 22-acre arts mecca. (Photo by Arianna Grainey/

An influx of technology

As the world is, has and continues to grapple with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Wuestemann says the usage of technology became a vital tool of patron engagement.

Dr. Wuestemann sits down with the Arizona Digital Free Press.

New tools and all-things technology are here to say, he says.

“I think today, technology can be an extra offering tool, if you use it right,” he said pointing out a conversation recently held with four Arts members and an artist based in Japan. “At the beginning, learning how to do a good streaming process was no easy task. But as we move back into a normal world, we are still all about the person-to-person art experiences, there is no substitute of course. But if you cannot be there for whatever reason, we can still give you a meaningful experience with our virtual tools.”

Dr. Wuestemann explains the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, saw a staggering 120,000 users for its digital collection.

“Technology can help you build a better platform for the future,” he said.

A Civic Center like no other

As the global pandemic unfolded and the event and tourism world stopped, Dr. Wuestemann went to the drawing board, he says.

“In the summer of 2021 we made some very distinct choices as an organization,” he said pointing out through the pandemic, and today, all staff remain committed to Scottsdale Arts. “When there is such a great interruption you cannot get a better chance to ask yourself how you are going to move forward. Here, I thought, you have a chance to reshape the future.”

So, he went to work creating the most diverse and inviting Scottsdale Arts fall season ever conceived, Dr. Wuestemann said. Turns out, he was right.

“How we are putting butts in seats, as you put it, at first there was a challenge, but then people began to take notice of who was here and what was going on,” he said of current programing at Scottsdale Arts. “It really has helped us be a leader in this space.”

There is a stage 2 venue, locals know has sat untouched since the 1970s and Dr. Wuestemann knows it.

“We need to have a street presence and a big detail for the facade,” he said noting his excitement for the stage 2 venue revitalization.

“We have kicked the doors wide open in terms of heavy investment in Latin and Afro performance art, he said pointing out ticket sales for singer, songwriter and actor Gregory Porter saw a boost in ticket sales.
“We can measure who is buying our tickets. With Gregory Porter we saw that 70% of those were first-time buyers, and that got us excited. That show has created the ability for us to attract new audiences.”

Dr. Wuestemann says he can feel the shift in how the brand of Scottsdale Arts is evolving.

“I literally had people come up to me and say, I saw such and such here in Scottsdale, I used to see them at the Crescent Ballroom, and I never thought, I would see them here,” he said. “It is a really cool thing; they are discovering Scottsdale for the first time and has been very positive. If we are successful, more people will be coming here to experience the arts.”

PART 1 of 3: Look for when the Arizona Digital Free Press reports what the next chairman of the board hopes to see for the future of Scottsdale Arts.

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