Thousands upon thousands of New Yorkers and visiting travelers stroll through Washington Park on a daily basis. While they’re admiring the local fauna or people-watching in the park’s lively courtyard, a succession of large-scale glass windows across the park might catch their eye – and for the lucky who do, an incubator of art, science, and philosophy exhibitions awaits.
New York University’s Kimmel Galleries have a relatively short history at the storied institution. Built in 2003 on the south side of the Washington Square Park, the center was originally created to replace the Loeb Student Center, which could no longer accommodate NYU’s growing student base. Designed with looming glass windows and light brick, the Kimmel Galleries were meant to encourage student life while welcoming the larger New York community to peruse its cultural offerings.
“NYU is comprised of 18 different colleges, and for me, the Kimmel Galleries are about showcasing the diversity that the university has to offer,” says Pamela Jean Tinnen, the director of the Kimmel Galleries at NYU. Tinnen was tapped by NYU just after she finished her graduate studies at the university. An interdisciplinary artist and curator, Tinnen had previously managed the corporate art collection at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, FL. Her expertise in managing a collection whose mission largely focused on community-driven exhibitions played a crucial role at Kimmel, where Tinnen has managed to create a successful exhibition program.
Kimmel Galleries Integrate NYU’s Diverse Colleges
The Kimmel Galleries were created to be a public art space. Rather than focusing on programming student-run exhibitions, NYU Kimmel Galleries welcomes community artists – both NYU professors and alumni, along with the occasional non-NYU affiliated artist or organization – to submit their exhibition proposals for a place in the Kimmel Vitrines’ park-facing windows, an opportunity for exposure that’s largely unmatched in New York City.
“The mission is to host anywhere between four to six exhibitions in the windows a year that are diverse and representative of all of NYU’s educational output,” says Tinnen. The idea, she says, is to give each school ample room to showcase what they’re working on so that the exhibition programming doesn’t focus solely on arts or photography, but rather broadly encompasses NYU’s educational community at large. Often times, there’s substantial overlap.
“For example, the professor we’re showing in the fall is a filmmaker, but his exhibition is narrative-based photography,” she says. “Conversely, when you’re dealing with science professors, they may not be visual in their thinking, but there’s a wealth of public history and science pieces in the NYU archives that I as a curator can utilize to make an exhibition.” Tinnen notes that her work as the director of Kimmel Galleries requires much outreach and coordination between departments. “It’s impossible to get bored, I have so much material to work with,” she says.
Another critical aspect of Tinnen’s work – one that she’s taking on with the help of assistant director and curator Daricia Mia DeMarr and advice from colleagues at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts – is fundraising. Recently, NYU’s Kimmel Galleries shifted to a completely independent department within NYU, altering Tinnen’s ability to seek new avenues for funding exhibitions and large-scale projects.
“There’s a very small budget right now, though we now have the opportunity to fundraise,” says Tinnen. “The budget allocated by the university isn’t enough to fund the quality of exhibits I’d like to move forward, so exhibition sponsors are an increased priority.”
Fundraising Challenges Facing NYU Institutions
Kimberly Olstad, the assistant director of development at NYU’s Skirball Center, notes that arts institutions in New York City encounter special challenges, and that both organizations have their work cut out for them. “I think it’s a very saturated market, there’s a lot of competition all throughout New York for resources,” she says. “There’s competition for funding but there’s a lot of people vying to present the same artists and be on the cutting edge. With Kimmel, they’re just now entering the fray of the funding aspect.”
Unlike NYU’s Kimmel Galleries, Skirball Center for the Performing Arts focuses on producing NYU-independent artist productions, though the Center is ultimately responsible for funding the project. Managing everything from ticket sales to corporate sponsorships and membership sales, Olstad says that resources are always a concern.
“A major challenge in being part of a university is that people don’t understand that we do fundraise for our programs,” says Olstad. “We’re responsible for our own budget. We have to make the case that we’re a non-profit serving young adult audiences and underscore why its important we reach them while they’re at NYU or in New York to ensure they’ll become sophisticated audiences for the future. Resources are always a challenge because there’s so many worthy organizations that are looking for the same source of funding.”
For now, the Skirball Center generates revenue through various sponsorship and membership programs, and has forgone advertising in playbills. Tinnen, on the other hand, has determined that advertising revenue can be a boon for Kimmel Galleries, whose galleries’ sprawling window design presents a unique opportunity for advertisers looking for high-traffic areas.
“We’re hoping to raise sponsorships and advertising in the windows, and we’re working with university donors to do some research on reaching out to alumni,” she says. “There’s no other space like this – not only are you getting an amazing amount of exposure, you’re also supporting completely unique space, where ideas and dialogue are available for the public. Tens of thousands of people interact with the space in some way every day.”
In addition to relying on advertising revenue, Tinnen plans to seek more traditional funding routes by showcasing the Kimmel Galleries’ unique student programming. Kimmel’s exhibition schedule goes beyond the gallery walls and into the classroom by creating a thread from the classroom to the exhibition hall. “We have instituted a curatorial lab program, where we partner with a professor who writes into their curriculum a topic or exercise that will manifest into an exhibition,” Tinnen says. “For example, a recent project is art crime, where the students choose a specific instance of vandalism or forgery within the art world and turn it into an exhibition. My goal is to engage all of our schools with this program.”
Forthcoming, Tinnen is planning for the Kimmel Galleries’ next exhibition, opening in September, featuring the work of an NYU film school professor exhibiting photographic work he embarked on in the early 1980s. The project is largely funded by university grants, and took nearly a year to plan and complete. Thereafter, Tinnen remains in the throes of planning her 2019 exhibition schedule, while adding these dynamic new fundraising and earnings models into her daily routine. Says Tinnen: “We really want these to be premium museum quality exhibitions showcasing the dynamic nature of NYU.”
Learn more about Pamela Jean Tinnen and NYU’s Kimmel Galleries by visiting Orangenius.