After stepping down last year as director of the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Ellen Salpeter will take on a position outside the museum world—and will relocate to a new city in the process.
Westbeth Artists’ Housing, a New York–based nonprofit that provides affordable housing and studio spaces to artists, has named Salpeter as its first president and CEO. She will take up her new role on November 1, and focus on institutional growth and forging connections with other artist residency and housing programs across country.
“It’s a nice time to reflect on [Westbeth’s] story, which is pretty extraordinary, but it also offers us an opportunity to look forward to the next phase of Westbeth and position us as a resource for a future generation of artists,” Salpeter told ARTnews of the organization’s 50th anniversary year, which is coming up in 2020. “I think we have a fundamental role in keeping cultural producers in New York.”
Westbeth, which has been providing visual, performing, and literary artists with affordable housing and studio space since 1970, is based in a multi-building complex in the West Village of Manhattan, near the Whitney Museum. Throughout its history, Westbeth has hosted the famed choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, photographers Diane Arbus and Karl Bissinger, painter Robert De Niro Sr., filmmaker Barbara Hammer, and more. But the organization’s history includes more than just housing artists: it was the site of the founding of the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective, and it was an early space for New York City’s first LGBTQ synagogue.
Today, Westbeth’s complex is home to the New School for Drama, the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, and the School for Poetic Computation. The Westbeth Artists’ Residents Council organizes events featuring works by resident and non-resident artists, staging some exhibitions and performances as part of partnerships with other cultural institutions. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2011, it was designated as a historical landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The new job is a homecoming for Salpeter, who was born in New York, and has previously served as director of the now-shuttered Thread Waxing Space, a nonprofit arts and education in the city, and deputy director of external affairs at the Jewish Museum. She was also the founding director of Heart of Brooklyn, a partnership of local cultural organizations including the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Prospect Park, among others. She currently serves on the boards of the Judd Foundation, the alternative arts space Participant, Inc., and the New York-based performance and media company the Builders Association.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand both Westbeth’s legacy and history over last five decades, but also where it’s going and that it’s still a very vibrant community,” Salpeter said. “[We’re going] to work toward promoting Westbeth as a residential center for the arts but also as a place for the community.”