Cultured Magazine

Winter 2015

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160 CULTURED MAKING MOVES Ellen Salpeter, the new director of the ICA, Miami, takes on the emerging cultural institution the only way she knows how—with motorcycle jacket in hand. BY SIOBHAN MORRISSEY PORTRAIT BY WILHELM SCHOLZ Ellen Salpeter is a biker chick. The newly named director of the almost-as-new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, is a graduate of Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. She's also a member of several motorcycle clubs in New York, one of them called The Missfires, a female-only group of riders. "Maybe I'll start a Miami chapter when I get settled?" Salpeter says, laughing. Currently, she gets around the city on a Vespa and rides a Kawasaki Ninja 500r whenever she feels a need to let her hair down. Her father was a financial consultant, and at one point Salpeter envisioned a similar life in international business management. "I thought I'd be interested in his work of transforming organizations and companies," she says. She contemplated becoming an international entertainment attorney and dreamed of joining the Foreign Service as a cultural attaché in Paris but a work-study job in college at the Smithsonian Institution altered her intentions. "Life takes you in many directions," Salpeter says. "My path was not straight-forward." Most recently Salpeter served as the deputy director for external affairs at the Jewish Museum in New York. After she joins ICA at its temporary quarters in December she will guide its move once a proposed 37,500-square-foot space and an adjoining 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden are completed. Founded last year by breakaway board members who left the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, ICA provides Salpeter with the rare opportunity to mold a museum from scratch. "To be able to operate in a temporary space is so wonderful because you get to test some ideas," she says. The facility will also serve as a launch pad for the creation of the museum's educational program "And that will allow us to build our constituency before the launch of the new building." Her vision is simple and qualifies as a concerted effort to generally enhance the growing art scene. She plans to make ICA distinctive from the dozen or so art museums in South Florida while simultaneously co-nurturing projects with other directors. "We plan to present the cutting-edge art of our time and we would certainly like ICA to join the pantheon of institutes of contemporary art globally," she says. "We want to take time and think through what that means to us as a community. I'm new to Miami so I have a lot of learning and listening to do—but I see it as a relatively young city. So, the art of our time, even going back to the beginnings of Miami, isn't so old and I think there's plenty of room for all of these institutions. Enough room for them to carve out their own, individual space in the museum environment and also function collaboratively. Together we can all make a difference." Although Salpeter had no hand in the exhibitions ICA featured during this year's Art Basel, a show the Jewish Museum organized during her tenure there, entitled "Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television," will be highlighted at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale: "Timing is everything," says Salpeter after she explains that the decision for the show to travel south long precluded her decision to hit the road and head for Miami. "It's a happy coincidence."

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