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Jack Rasmussen

Washington, D.C. | by September 6, 2013

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


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