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Introducing Peter Comiskey, the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership’s New Leader

Peter ComiskeyThe Balboa Park Cultural Partnership (BPCP) has hired a new director, Peter Comiskey, to lead collaborative activities for 27 art, science, and cultural institutions in Balboa Park.

The Australia-born Comiskey has more than a decade of experience leading collaborative cultural projects in the U.S., mostly in Southern California. He has led the Downtown Anaheim Association; the operations for Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana; and the MUZEO Foundation in Anaheim. He holds an MBA from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Comiskey started in his role on Monday, February 4. He succeeds Paige Simpson, BPCP’s interim director who announced last year that she was going to move to the East Coast with her family.

His arrival comes at a landmark moment in Balboa Park’s history, with planning for the year-long EDGE2015 celebration underway.

For the next few months, Comiskey will commute from Orange County as his wife and four-year-old daughter prepare to move to San Diego. Amid a packed schedule of meetings, receptions, and house hunting, he took a few minutes to discuss his initial ideas and priorities for the Park.

There are lot of organizations, people, and priorities in Balboa Park. What has prepared you to jump into this role?

I just finished working for the Downtown Anaheim Association. In the middle of Anaheim there are arts organizations, restaurants, accommodation, business, and government. My stakeholders were all of those people. We had 4 or 5 galleries up there and we’d do events all the time – art walks, farmers markets, and big festivals.

The space and the stakeholders I was working with were comparable to those in the Park in that they had different views and objectives. The developers wanted more people in their buildings. The restaurants wanted more food served out to the tables. The city government wanted more people coming into the area. The arts community wanted higher exposure for the arts and more education programs. Many different groups and goals.

You’re a dozen or so meetings into your job. What do you see as your first priorities?

I had the luxury of meeting all the directors of the institutions and some of the community stakeholders while getting ready for the start date. For the first couple of weeks, I will continue to meet with stakeholders inside and outside of the Park to make sure I have a solid understanding of the Park. I’m new to San Diego and the Park, even though I’ve visited many times. I need this understanding before I know which direction the Cultural Partnership could go. And it goes beyond the Park—I need to understand the greater community, the county, and the region. 

Peter Comiskey

I remember you mentioned that your first visit to Balboa Park was to see a play at The Old Globe. What were your initial impressions of the park?

It was beautiful. There are these amazing institutions in such a warm and welcoming environment within the center of the city. The access is fantastic. The directions I had were awful [laughs], but that’s another story.

Now that you’ve spent more time here, has anything stood out to you that you didn’t notice before?

There are countless things that I didn’t notice before. I’d guess that you could find something different each time you come to the park no matter how many times you’ve been here. My office looks out to The Prado and over to the organ pavilion and it has become my favorite place to hang out, much to my wife’s chagrin. Just to go on a walk around the Park as the place where I work has become a wonderful thing.

[from left: Dalouge Smith, President & CEO of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Peter Comiskey]

Are there particular projects you’re excited about taking on?

One of the most exciting elements is the work of the Learning Institute and the big NSF grant that came through for integrating the arts into science, tech, engineering, and math education. This has massive implications for the U.S. education system. The fact that we—Balboa Park— are at the front of this research and serving as a national leader is really groundbreaking stuff.

Of the more public initiatives, probably the most intriguing opportunity is the emerging Park Pass project. Shepherding that project through prior to the 2015 celebration will give people an ability to access the Park in a way they’ve never been able to before. An ability to come for a short time instead of coming for the whole day, and to come back time and time again, whether it’s to the Fleet or to the Museum of Art. You’ll be able to come throughout the year to any institution in Balboa Park.

Ed note: What is this “Park Pass” he mentions? Stay tuned to Balboa Park social media or our enewsletter for the big announcement this spring!

Some say leading collaborative projects in the park is akin to herding goats. What leadership qualities do you think are important for this role?

There are unlimited styles and characteristics of good leaders. We have very good leaders in the Partnership, 27 of them, that I’m getting to work with on a regular basis. My real goal and the style that I’ll use is to make sure that each of those directors is fully conversant and fully involved in the programs of the Partnership. I want to tap their experience base and make decisions based on the collective knowledge of those 27 people. The Partnership is a unique collaborative effort that is a model for other parks and cultural institutions. I look forward to developing and implementing programs that benefit everyone who visits this great park.

>Learn more about the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership.

 

--Maren Dougherty

Photos by Michael Jackson