During the spring of 2012, I visited with Jack Rassmussen, Director of American University’s Katzen Art Center. The Katzen is a familiar place to me. The Department of Art is housed in the same building down the hall, and where I taught for 11 years. I often brought my students to the museum for drawing projects, art openings, critiques and discussions.
From the outside, the Katzen almost resembles a mini Guggenheim in its cylindrical white form. It sits on the northeast side of Nebraska Circle like a cake and is unmissable as you drive by on Massachusetts Ave. Inside it’s layout is quite different and doesn’t have the spiral ramp wrapping around the circumference of it’s space. The Katzen has three floors, each with it’s own unique galleries that can be manipulated and changed depending on the exhibit.
We met in his windowless office tucked in the back of the first floor of the museum. On one corner was his desk and on the opposite, a couch, chair, coffee table and bookshelves. Fluorescent lighting was the only source of light and didn’t serve to highlight some of the work hanging in his office so well — including a drawing by one of AU’s former graduate students Nikki Painter.
Jack wasn’t always in the museum business. As one of the rare museum directors to also be a practicing artist, he received his MFA from American University and continues to maintain his own studio practice. Before coming to the Katzen, Jack has always worked at alternative art spaces. He was hired as the Assistant Director of the Washington Project for the Arts by founder Alice Denney from 1975 — 78. After that it was Executive Director at the Rockville Arts Place, Maryland Art Place and the di Rosa Preserve. His dedication to the regional art community is a main commitment he upholds as the Director of the Katzen. Washington artists Linn Meyers, Robin Rose, Carol Brown Goldberg, Sam Gilliam and Tom Green — just to name a few, all have had exhibitions at the Katzen in either group or solo shows.
After speaking about his personal history, Jack toured me through the airy museum addressing the current exhibitions. It was a quiet weekday afternoon and classes were out, so the place was empty.
We meandered in and out of each gallery addressing each exhibit’s focus. Stopping at the top gallery where local artist Lou Stovall was showing a body of work titled “Vertical Views”, Jack mused about the importance of paying attention to the artists around you. “It’s important to me…otherwise you don’t want them getting angry…”
It was a great place to be on a very hot spring day. To hear Jack discuss the museum’s mission in depth, please click play and watch the accompanying video. You can keep up with Jack on his blog at: http://art-at-the-katzen.blogs.american.edu