A year after establishing itself as Miami’s newest arts venue, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami has chosen a permanent director.
Ellen Salpeter, a longtime arts institution leader in New York who has served as deputy director of external affairs for the Jewish Museum in New York since 2012, will start her new position at ICA Miami on Dec. 1.
“She’s a seasoned professional,” said Irma Braman, co-chair of the board of trustees and a major financial supporter of the organization with her husband, auto magnate Norman Braman. “She’s a great fundraiser, which is a major thing with us. She is a good budgeter, she is professional, she knows what she’s doing, she knows what the job is. And more importantly even, she wants this job.”
Salpeter will be the first permanent director for the fledgling institution, which emerged after the board of North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art and its municipal landlord parted ways. Alex Gartenfeld, who was hired at MOCA in 2013 and moved to the new museum with board members, will remain deputy director and chief curator.
Since late last year, ICA Miami has been operating out the Moore Building in Miami’s Design District. The institution will build a permanent structure, funded by the Bramans and private donations, on land on Northeast 41st Street donated by Miami Design District Associates.
Construction of the 37,500-square-foot structure with a 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden is expected to break ground in the upcoming months and be completed by 2017.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to build something new,” said Salpeter, 55. “I’m excited by coming to Miami at this time, by working with the Bramans and the collectors and trustees and with Alex to create a new center for community engagement, for contemporary art, for discourse and dialogue.”
She said she expects to focus on preparing the institution and its staff, programming and supporters for a new permanent home.
“Clearly my job is going to be to build and grow the team in a strategic and thoughtful manner so that we are ready for the opening of the new building,” Salpeter said.
Salpeter, who has family in South Florida and lived here briefly, will enter an arts landscape in South Florida that has seen significant changes in the past couple of years. Bonnie Clearwater, formerly MOCA’s director and chief curator, now holds that position at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale; Babacar M’Bow is director of MOCA, which remains in its former North Miami home.
The University of Miami’s Lowe Art Museum, Frost Art Museum and Wolfsonian-FIU have all gotten new leaders since June 2014. And earlier this month, the Pérez Art Museum Miami announced that it had hired Franklin Sirmans, curator of contemporary art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as its new director. He starts in October.
Braman said one of Salpeter’s priorities will be engaging with other institutions in town.
“There are so many new people, which has put a new light on Miami and hopefully everyone will be working together, working as a community,” Braman said.
Salpeter has experience in working with groups for a common goal. Before moving to the Jewish Museum, she was founding director of Heart of Brooklyn, a partnership of cultural institutions in the central neighborhoods of Brooklyn. She worked as director of Thread Waxing Space, a nonprofit arts and education venue, from 1994 until 2000, and has consulted for several cultural organizations.
Describing herself as “someone who lives and breathes partnership as part of my DNA,” she said she finds the opportunity to work with other institutions “limitless.”
“We together collectively are both educating and inspiring and entertaining not just the existing generations of cultural consumers, but the next generation,” she said.