November 16, 2020
The year 2020 has been a trying one for the art world, specifically for nonprofit organizations. A study from the National Center for Arts Research released over the summer estimated that New York City’s nonprofit arts sector alone had lost more than half a billion dollars since March, with 11% of smaller cultural organizations not expected to survive. The data is bleak, but in spite of it all, nonprofit leaders are showing that when faced with a challenge, they will work to execute the best possible solution to further their organizations’ missions or legacies.
During this discussion we will hear from Deborah Fisher, Executive Director of A Blade of Grass, and Irene Shum, former Executive Director of Art in General. Both spaces were majorly affected by the pandemic and ultimately came to different solutions. We will discuss the challenges each organization faced and the different possible solutions that were considered, the decision-making process, and what’s next for them and the future of arts nonprofits.
Deborah Fisher is an artist and creative leader working to expand the roles artists play in civic life. She is the founding Executive Director of A Blade of Grass, a non-profit solely dedicated to nurturing socially engaged art. Fisher has served as an art, strategy, and philanthropy advisor to Shelley and Donald Rubin, and has worked in many capacities at the intersection of art and civic life in New York City, including as studio manager at Socrates Sculpture Park, and as an educator and curriculum developer for the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment. Her approach to leadership is deeply informed by her training as a sculptor, particularly her experience making public art. She also writes and lectures internationally about arts funding and socially engaged art.
For fifteen years, curator Irene Mei Zhi Shum has actively explored the intersection of art and architecture, organizing ambitious projects and championing the artists and designers with whom she works. Most recently, she was the Executive Director of Art in General in New York City. Prior to this, Shum served as the Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas (2018-2020) and the inaugural curator for the Philip Johnson Glass House, a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in New Canaan, Connecticut (2007-2018). An early and major responsibility at the Glass House was the coordination of the transfer of property from the estates of architect Philip Johnson and art patron David Whitney to the National Trust. Shum shaped the Glass House’s collection and implemented the site’s arts initiative, introducing exhibitions, music and dance performances. Notably, she organized and secured funding for the large-scale, site-specific exhibitions Fujiko Nakaya: Veil (2014) and Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden (2016), as well as a highly acclaimed sound performance by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and visual artist and musician Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto), that was recorded and released as Glass (Noton, 2018). Shum holds a Master’s in Architecture from Yale University; a certificate of architecture from the École des Beaux-Arts of the Ecoles d’Art Américaines de Fontainebleau, where she was awarded the Prix de Ville de Fontainebleau; and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture and Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University.