Sally Dixon, a key supporter of avant-garde film at American art museums, died on November 5 at age 87. Her death was announced by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which once received a group of films and ephemera from her. A cause of death was not immediately provided, though a website dedicated to the curator said that she “struggle[d] with the onset of Alzheimer’s.”
Dixon advocated for film and video art at a time when the mediums were not readily embraced by art institutions. She established the department of film and video at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, serving as its founding curator from 1970 to 1975, and worked with giants of the experimental film scene like Stan Brakhage, Carolee Schneemann, and Paul Sharits. The Carnegie’s film section, as the department was known in its early years, was among the first of its kind in the country.
In 1973, she founded the publication Film and Video Makers Travel Sheet. The monthly journal, which featured information about notable screenings and lectures, was distributed to film centers, universities, museums, and other cultural institutions. That same year, she took part in a a cultural tour in Europe with the Film and Video Makers Travel Sheet, attending presentations of Brakhage’s films eyes (1971), Deus Ex (1971), and The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971), which collectively form the “Pittsburgh Trilogy.”
Following her tenure at the Carnegie, Dixon took a position as a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and soon after moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to work as interim director at the media arts center Film in the Cities. In collaboration with Melinda Ward, then film curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Dixon launched the Filmmakers Filming initiative, which brought visiting artists to the Twin Cities to show their work at the Walker and teach courses at Film in the Cities.
In 1980, she went on to serve as the first director of artistic fellowships at the Bush Foundation in St. Paul. There, she worked with Midwestern performers, writers, and visual artists.
Dixon donated 30 rare films, along with photographs and ephemera, to the Walker Art Center in 2005. A 2012 exhibition at the museum, “The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1973,” curated by Sheryl Mousley, senior curator of film and video at the Walker, paid homage to Dixon’s legacy. The show included works by Brakhage, Hollis Frampton, Gunvor Nelson, Bruce Conner, Bruce Baille, and more.
“Sally Dixon will be missed but her spirit, enthusiasm, and kindness lives on in all who were impacted by her,” Mousley, who first met Dixon when she joined Film in the Cities, wrote in a blog post on the Walker’s website.