"This [is] a chance to reinvent Maryland Art Place," says Jack Rasmussen, the new executive director of the private non-profit contemporary arts organization. "All of these organizations are having tough times and times are changing. Most of my work has been done with alternative art spaces that have to redefine themselves as they're going along if they're going to remain viable."
Mr. Rasmussen ought to know how to do it. At 42, he comes to MAP with an impressive history in the visual arts. Trained as an artist, he is also an art scholar and a curator with a background as a fund-raiser and administrator.
Born in Seattle, he has spent the last 19 years in Washington, in part accumulating master's degrees and working for a Ph.D. at American University. At the same time he has worked everywhere from the National Gallery (in the education department) to the Washington Project for the Arts (as the assistant director of that well-known alternative space), had his own gallery for five years, has done fund-raising for American University and most recently opened and ran the Rockville Arts Place, a non-profit visual arts center.
Mr. Rasmussen succeeds Susan Badder, MAP's second director, who left in October after two years. Jumping in with both feet since he took over the first of the month, the new director has already arranged to have the Maryland State Arts Council's slide registry of artists moved to MAP, in order to combine it with MAP's own.
In terms of program, he says, "I'm going to try to do things that get some attention." Like bringing to MAP in June a show of science fiction art from private collections that he organized for Rockville. "It's a somewhat disreputable genre, but the level of these collections is so fantastic. And it's a good excuse for some sort of fantasy ball."
Mr. Rasmussen says MAP has "a terrific reputation" but "I would like to see it more responsive to the Baltimore scene and the Maryland scene.
"I would like to showcase individual artists to the best advantage, with a more in depth look at their work; there aren't many places [locally] for that to happen. For example, if we have a curated show that takes up the first floor, there's no reason not to have a one-person show on the second floor."
The new director would also like to see MAP collaborate with other galleries on shows, an increasingly popular strategy in these hard times.
He takes over when MAP is running on a budget of about $325,000, down from a top of about $375,000 a few years ago, but he doesn't foresee going back to the old level right away at least. "First I would like to see us able to support the budget we have. My specialty has been major gifts cultivation and solicitation. I think MAP has done a fabulous job of getting grants. I think there's basically work that could be done in the corporate world and more to be done with cultivation of individuals who really have a stake in the place."
MAP board president Fredye Murphy says in selecting Mr. Rasmussen the organization got "the kind of experience we wanted for the job," and adds "I feel that Jack has the vision to take us where we need to go in the next 10 years. He has an excellent reputation with artists. He brings a regional perspective. And the staff really likes him."