Todd Birdsong is no stranger to the Clemens Fine Arts Center on the campus of WKCTC. After working there for over 20 years he has been named its new Director. He is a father of four quite different, but unique children. His grandfather is his role model, and he’s a big fan of a couple of 80’s movies. iMeet this amazing artist who stresses that collaboration is key.
Welcome to iMeet, Todd. Congratulations on your new title! Tell us about yourself…
I earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in mass communication and media arts from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 2015 and a bachelor's degree in advertising and journalism from Murray State University in 1991. Throughout my career at the Clemens Fine Arts Center, I was also an adjunct instructor for the college. I teach photography, audio production and sound engineering.
I had served as the center's interim director since last February. I also served as the technical director for the Clemens Center for more than 23 years prior to my newest position.
Have you always been drawn to academia?
I was on academic probation after my first year of college. I stayed out of school the next year, bought a ’72 orange and white VW van and moved to Memphis, Tennessee – then I started working as a tour guide for Graceland. While doing that and working midnight’s stocking shelves at a grocery store, I realized that it was my choices that put me where I was and it was me who could change those circumstances. I enrolled back in school the following fall semester. That was a pivotal moment for me growing up.
Tell us about your family and those four unique children…
I have been married for over 25 years to Laura. Growing up, my parents divorced when I was young and I think that is why my family is so important to me. I like to relax with my family when I am not working.
Laura and I have four children - Zane (19), Luke (15), May (11) and Amelia (10). Each have their own identity: Zane is a musician/singer/songwriter. Luke is an athlete who has a passion for track and is a member of the PTHS track team. May has artistic tendencies - she likes painting and photography, especially using her Polaroid camera. Amelia is the “maker” of the group – she’s all about building and constructing things, as well as trying to figure things out, and how things work.
What attracted you to a career in the arts?
Part of my attraction to the arts is that I get to meet like-minded people, like musicians, painters, writers, photographers, etc. - all of which are creatives and “get the joke.” There is a certain sense of humor that comes with creating and making things.
Another part of my approach to the arts is collaboration. Putting together different arts disciplines that benefit both, or all, parties involved is important. We should look out for one another and find ways to say “yes” when working together.
Tell us more about your art…
One of the things I like to do as an artist and producer is to put things together in different ways that may not seem logical on the surface. I like the juxtaposition of having two very different ideas coming together to make something more interesting than the two things are separately.
I also think it is important to present artists and topics that, as an educational institution, we are uniquely qualified to produce. Just as being entertained is important to all of us, I also believe we need to experience a more serious side of our world - whether that’s in the form of a social issue, or just looking at a familiar thing with a bit more intention and different perspective. The challenges we face today in the performing arts come from multiple directions.
One important aspect of seeing a live performance is the feeling of experiencing an event in a social way. What I mean by that is so many people are cut off from one another by technology today. When you use technology to connect to people, you can still see the person, hear the person and communicate with the person, but you have no sense of sharing a space with that person and picking up on all of the physical cues they might be giving off. There is a certain energy that exists between people who are gathered as a group to enjoy a performance or event that can’t be replicated by your phone. Too much is lost in translation. As a culture, we are becoming more reclusive and segmented. This is my fear for the performing arts.
Tell us about your new job…
I am excited to be the new director for the CFAC. It has been a hectic start to this season and we have put together a solid set of performances that will bring a diverse audience to the Clemens. In fact, we are introducing a new series this year called the Exposure Series. It focuses on enabling audiences and artists to inquire, experiment, develop, and experience the dynamic relationship between our senses, technology, and our worlds while exploring ideas with a cross-disciplinary and more mission-based approach.
There are three events scheduled in this series, two of which are performances and one is a panel discussion. The other series includes local and regional singer/songwriters in our “Backstage Pass Series” and our mainstage “Arts In Focus Series” will bring a taste of country music, both new and classic, a sense of humor and the kinetic narrative of contemporary dance. All will be revealed when we announce our season on August 23.
What are some of your favorite entertainment guilty pleasures?
I’ve been watching some great “80’s” movies recently including Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppala), Into The Night (John Landis) and Body Double (Brian De Palma). My favorite playwrights are Samuel Beckett and Sam Sheppard. I enjoy books by Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe as well as poetry by Walt Whitman. I have too many favorite albums and songs so I won’t name any specifically.
I am also a huge fan of all genres and styles of music. I enjoy photography as well performance art - but not the kind that involves raw meat and chocolate syrup!
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My grandfather was a pipefitter and welder. He taught me the value in doing good work, no matter what the job. I understand the importance of education, hard work, dedication to honing one's craft and collaborating with others.