On Sept. 16, Jennifer Gately, the Portland Art Museum’s curator for Northwest art, announced she was resigning after only two years and nine months on the job. An outpouring of disappointment from the local arts community was followed by speculation and gossip: Did she have cancer? Had she been forced out by PAM’s imperious chief curator, Bruce Guenther? Gately wasn’t talkin’. Local arts maven Arlene Schnitzer—who, along with her husband, Harold, endowed Gately’s position—told WW she would miss Gately’s “creativity, talent, initiative and the edginess she brought to the museum’s programming, which forced more traditionalist people like myself to reach beyond what we thought we were capable of thinking about.”
On her last day at PAM (Friday, Sept. 26), Gately chatted with WW about the rumors, the highlights of her tenure, and what lies ahead for the Portland art scene.
WW: Are you leaving due to a health problem?
Jennifer Gately: No. I’m absolutely healthy as can be! This community is so dramatic sometimes!
Were you forced out of the museum?
I have never felt forced or restricted by the institution. The opposite is true. The projects I developed were completely embraced and endorsed.
Then why leave after such a short time?
My choice to move on is purely personal. If you look at the business world, it isn’t unusual for people who are agents of change to come in, get the job done, then move on to the next challenge. I’ve set a new course of action for the museum. Now it’s time to move on to other adventures.
Here in Portland? Doing what?
I don’t know exactly, but I’m going to take some time to regroup and craft a plan.
Do you have any idea who will succeed you?
I don’t have a clue, but I can’t wait to see how they take this position to the next level.
You curated the 2006 Oregon Biennial, you started up the APEX exhibits, and you created the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards. Which was your favorite?
Every single project I’ve worked on has been my favorite. They’ve all been unique and diverse. I also oversaw the reinstallation of the fourth floor of the Center for Northwest Art, and I programmed the Rubinstein Alcove on the third floor. Overall I’ve tried to be an advocate for Northwest art and artists on so many levels.
As you leave this position, what are your thought about the Northwest art scene?
It’s an exciting time to be an artist here! We have vibrant nonprofits and alternative spaces. Institutions are stepping up and supporting regional activity. The future rests entirely on the community’s shoulders. I often ask myself: Who are the Schnitzers of tomorrow? Who are the next supporters of the arts at that level? In Seattle, the Henry Gallery just launched a new visual arts award called “The Brink.” John and Shari Behnke are the couple underwriting it. They’re the next Schnitzers of Seattle. Who are Portland’s?