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The School of Art’s new director begins her ‘dream job’

ASU's new School of Art Director Joanna Grabski began the job on July 1

New School of Art Director, Joanna Grabski, poses for a picture. Photo courtesy of Joanna Grabski

New School of Art Director, Joanna Grabski, poses for a picture. Photo courtesy of Joanna Grabski

The School of Art has filled its director position in Joanna Grabski this July and in doing so has given her, in her own words, “My dream job, my dream city, my dream school.”

Grabski, who was most recently the chair of art history and visual history at Denison University, officially started at the school on July 1. She said when she was first contacted to interview for the position she was overjoyed.

“I heard about the job as it was posted nationally, and then I was also nominated for the job by a colleague,” she said. “I was so excited. I think I must’ve been bursting with enthusiasm when they started asking me questions …. I was completely thrilled.”

She said she is thrilled to embrace ASU’s ideals of The New American University.

“We see it nationally,” she said. “We see all the big changes, we see all the progress happening, and the idea of coming there and partnering with the faculty to make The School of Art really and truly an integral part of mission is really inspiring to me.”

Grabski holds a doctorate in art history, and her research lies in understanding how a city's art is connected with urban public spaces as well as how urban centers of art in Africa can influence other parts of the world.

Seventeen years of research has lead to her book, “Art World City,” which will be published on Monday, July 10. The book focuses on the art, artists, the creative economy and the influence of the artistic city of Dakar, Senegal where she lived for a year while working on her dissertation.

She has also directed and produced her own film, “Market Imaginary,” which talks about how artists in the city of Dakar can take secondhand items and repurpose them, breathing new life into tossed out goods and creating new commerce.

“It’s given me a paradigm to think about how artist’s use urban space, and I think that’s also another dimension I can bring to working at ASU,” Grabski said. “Thinking about how the arts scene is part of a much larger context and how the two things are synergistic.”

With all her accomplishments and talents, Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute, said she emerged as the unanimous choice for the job.

“It’s a position of extraordinary opportunity,” Tepper said. “Of course with extraordinary opportunity, and any time you are working in an ambitious university that is committed to innovation, you are going to have a lot of challenges. So you need a personality who can manage those ambitions with the day-to-day needs of the school.”

The application process for this position in no easy task. It includes competing against 100 different candidates, an advisory board, a full day-and-a-half schedule at ASU and an open survey where people who have met the candidates can provide feedback.

“I think what people really gravitated to was her strong commitment and passion for student learning,” Tepper said. “And listening. She was very good at listening and sort of quickly understanding what the aspirations of our faculty, staff and students were.”

Hilary Harp was the interim director for The School of Art while the hunt for the new director was on and she said listening to her peers was key in helping her in her time with the position.

“Since I wasn’t in the position very long I relied on a lot of people for advice – especially Associate Dean Sandy Stauffer and the School of Art staff – I’m sure Joanna will do the same,” Harp said in an emailed interview.

She went on to say her favorite part of the experience in her temporary position was working with all the people.

“You get to work with a lot of great people,” Harp said. “The School of Art faculty, students and staff are all fantastic, as are the other directors within (Herberger Institute for Design and Art), and the folks in the Dean’s office. Everybody is smart, creative, and actively working to improve the school.”

Grabski is in the process of moving to Arizona with her daughter and their imported puppy from Senegal. She said that she is excited to be able to partner with the faculty and continue to grow the New American University.

“I had ASU on my radar screen from the time I thought I wanted to work in arts administration,” Grabski said. “So when the job opened I thought, ‘My dream job just opened, I’m going to go for it,’ and it all I happened. I actually keep pinching myself.”

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