Every so often you meet a person so uplifting they immediately enrich your life. Rich Aste, director of the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, is one of those rare and special people. His keen insight taps into the most fundamental values that drive us all--hope, love and the human spirit.
Aste infuses his enduring spirit into his business, including his personal commitment to create a kind and welcoming environment for each of his museum visitors, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. Aste believes, "Where society divides us, art brings us together by celebrating our differences, our commonalities, and our shared human experiences."
Inspiring a Sense of Belonging
As a young boy, Aste had a hard time finding his place in society. He credits art for transforming his life, and today his goal is to make the same opportunity accessible to everyone. In his own words:
"The first time I felt a true sense of belonging was in an art museum. I was ten, and with my family in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In the Sandro Botticelli galleries, I stopped and lingered. And for the first time I forgot life's pressures--yes, ten-year olds navigate tremendous pressure to conform--and I just communed with a masterpiece, Botticelli's Birth of Venus. I saw there a level of beauty I hadn't thought possible till then. It took a Renaissance painter to get me there, and it took an art museum to enable me to get there--to dream bigger than myself and ultimately grow beyond myself. Art saved my life that day, and today I'm committed to bringing life-changing moments through a masterpiece like my own to every member of our community."
With the core of the gallery housed in a magnificent 24-room Spanish Colonial-Revival house, the McNay Art Museum is the perfect venue to bring Aste's passion and vision to life. The 20,000 works of art inside and scattered around the grounds and gardens of the gallery span centuries, from Medieval and Renaissance art through modern artists, and feature an exceptional collection of southwestern art.
Creating a Safe Space
Aste is a passionate anti-bullying advocate, bringing his commitment to gallery culture. What he most wants visitors to bask in while wandering the gallery is "inclusion." His goal is to create a safe space, where people can experience and appreciate the vast diversity of the world through art, while developing a new understanding of the world through the eyes of others.
"We are truly committed to our anti-bullying message splashed on our pins, banners, website, and social media platforms," he explains. "You cannot begin to dream and grow if you don't feel a sense of belonging."
David Molak was a 16-year-old boy who committed suicide after being subjected to abuse at the hands of cyberbullies. A percentage of the proceeds from anti-bullying buttons sold at the McNay is donated to David's Legacy Foundation, established by the Molak family to help bring an end to bullying. In June of this year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed David's Law into effect, a measure aimed at preventing and fighting cyberbullying.
Building Community Involvement
It's hard to imagine not being inspired by a walk through McNay's serene environment. Surrounded by lush gardens built around water features and acres of lawn studded with awe-inspiring sculptures, the McNay offers an inherently welcoming quality impossible to mistake. No detail is overlooked; even the walkways and retaining walls add artistic value. Aste envisions the McNay as far more than a museum. He is creating a vibrant, diverse community center where people can come together and enjoy different events. "Mi McNay Es Su McNay" is more than just their slogan - it's their mission statement.
Bringing Ideals to Business
When I asked Aste about his favorite artists, his answer neatly summed up his personal philosophy.
"Vincent Valdez and Ai Weiwei because their work is proof that art can be both beautiful and political; it's not an either/or situation," he said. "Both are contemporary visionaries who mastered historical techniques and practices but through their artwork help us see, understand, and find our place within today's shifting, hyperkinetic, global society."
His community has responded to his entrepreneurial vision and ideas with enthusiasm. His passion drives him to give his best to everything he does. He has an uncanny combination of warmth, sincerity, intelligence and motivation which simply works to his benefit. He is the ultimate entrepreneur and his heart is the masterpiece.