One of my favorite colleagues passed away last week. Jeannette Ingberman, co-founder of Exit Art, was one of the great thinkers in the arts world. I first met Jeanette in the mid 1990s when she asked me to do some consulting work for Exit Art. The organization was located in SoHo at the time (it has since moved to Hell's Kitchen). It was an alternative gallery space that showcased art that was outside the mainstream. Jeanette and her collaborator and husband, Papo Colo, were tireless in their support of unknown artists who dealt with difficult ideas. Much of what they exhibited was hard for me to understand or appreciate. This was my first experience with installation art and performance art and with arts organizations that did not strictly define themselves by presenting just one art form. Exit Art mounted art exhibitions, but it also showed movies and presented live performances; it was more a cultural community than simply a gallery. Over the past 17 years Jeanette was always an eager arts management student of mine. In both public classes and private discussions, Jeanette was anxious to learn how to find support needed for her work. She was always challenging my observations and assumptions; she needed to make sure that my ideas worked for her organization. But when something made sense to her, she was unshakeable in her commitment to implementation. She believed, as I do, that adventuresome arts organizations still need a structure, need marketing, need an active Board. While the work of Exit Art could not be easily defined Jeanette was no less disciplined an arts manager than anyone else I have known. But the creativity of her art was mirrored by her creativity as an arts manager.
She knew Exit Art was not the Metropolitan Museum of Art and would not attract the same donors. This did not dampen her optimism or enthusiasm. She simply found her own ways to support her organization. She would ask artists of renown to create works that could be auctioned. She created an annual portfolio of prints by important artists to be sold to collectors.
Jeanette knew she had to find effective and inexpensive ways to reach potential visitors to Exit Art; in response she became one of the most aggressive users of email blasts to spread the word about her organization. Emails from Exit Art were always welcome; they were creative, informative and fun.
For, above all else, Jeanette Ingberman was one of the most life affirming, fun, inspirational people on this planet. She attracted many, many people to her organization because it was always a joy to be with her. You never walked away from a conversation with Jeanette without having learned something. I have had many teachers over my career. Jeanette was one of the most potent. I hope that young people who wish to work in the arts will study her work for years to come. It is a lesson in creativity supported by discipline, in commitment supported by sacrifice, and, ultimately, of the joy of pursuing one's own personal mission.