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Susan Jackson and her BAC passion | Who's Who

Susan Jackson Work, fun merges for BAC executive director  - Brad Camp/For the Review
Susan Jackson Work, fun merges for BAC executive director
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

It was pouring rain the day Susan Jackson rolled into town in 2002. She and her friend P.C. Harper took a wrong turn on Sportsman Club Road and ended up circling Eagledale for quite some time. They never quite made it to downtown.

Serendipitously, they met a woman on the road, with a daughter and a dog in tow.

“We’re aliens and we’ve lost our mothership,” Jackson remembers saying.

“I’ll have to draw you a map,” said the stranger, who introduced herself as Ellin Spenser. “What are you doing here?”

“We’re looking for a new place to live,” said the art administrator and the artist.

“You need to live here,” Spenser said, “We need people like you.”

Spenser hooked them up with a real estate agent and Bainbridge welcomed them home.

“We were taken care of,” Jackson said, ever so pleased with her Battle Point home.

After spending a decade at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and another 10 years as director of the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado, Jackson assumed she’d find something to do at Seattle Art Museum or the Frye. But when she took a drawing class at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, she impulsively asked if there were any openings.

There was, for a publicist, and she took it.

And that was that, for about four months, when she took the job as interim executive director until February 2003 when she was given the permanent position.

The work in Aspen had given her a good background in fundraising. At MoMA, she invented, then directed the Visitor Services Department. It was the first new department in 33 years, and made Jackson the youngest department head at the museum. The concept of visitor services became a trend in museum administration, which put Jackson in the spotlight, consulting with institutions such as the d’Orsay Art Museum in Paris and the National Gallery in Canada.

With all that heady experience, you might think BAC is small potatoes for Jackson.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” she said in her Winslow office below see-level a few doors down from the Gallery.

She handpicked the curatorial team of two “wildly over-qualified” people, David Sessions as director of exhibitions and Victoria Josslin as director of education and communications.

“MoMA was like being part of the biggest dysfunctional family,” she said. “This is like a happy family. The staff is the hardest working, most underpaid but cheerful group. There’s not much drama here.”

The drama she has experienced has come from outside: the dismal economy, budget cuts to arts funding and the Winslow Way reconstruction this summer.

Still, there’s plenty of positives to focus on.

“It’s a pleasure to work for an organization with 63 years’ worth of history. We’re just keepers of the flame here,” she said. “There is virtually no turnover. It makes it easy to have a new idea, to solve problems collectively. Running BAC is a collaborative effort. That’s what makes it fun.”

That atmosphere of fun is palpable.

“We are really serious about what we do, about the quality of work that we show, about getting maximum exposure for the artists we represent, but I think you can do a great job and have fun doing it,” she said. “I assume I will retire here, unless the board tires of me. Everybody should have fun doing what they’re doing or do something else.”

Jackson can’t think of anything else she’d rather be doing.

- Connie Mears

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