A farewell salute to Janet Langsam

CEO of Arts Westchester

By Cindy Clarke

For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. For more than 33 of those years, Janet Langsam has been at its helm, guiding its growth, spearheading fundraising campaigns and supporting a diverse community of artists who have truly shaped the cultural landscape and arts in the Hudson Valley region it serves. Her legacy of tireless leadership and stalwart vision plays out in the historic 12-story bank building she transformed into an arts incubator with new offices, galleries, artist studios and spaces for creative business. It comes to life in the innovative art projects and audiences she brought to cities like White Plains, benefiting the city immeasurably. And it manifested in financial contributions that number in the hundreds of millions of dollars for local community arts programs and installations.

Janet is hanging up the mantle now and handing off the baton to a yet unnamed successor. Following in her footsteps, however daunting, will be made easier by the roadmap to success she leaves behind. We were delighted to ask her a few questions about her achievements, thoughts, and on-going vision for ArtsWestchester, taking the opportunity to tap into her knowledge and expertise before she officially retires on June 30.

Q. In the 30+ years you have been heading up Arts Westchester, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

A. My biggest accomplishment I think are the hundreds of artists we have showcased in our gallery, exhibitions and performances, and workshops, many of whom had never had their work shown in a unique professional setting like ours. I hope it gave their careers a much-deserved lift. Artists need their work to be shown and seen. The rest is up to us.

Q. Can you share one of your favorite highlights during your tenure?

A. We had an exhibition called “She” in which an artist did a beautiful mural depicting women of different ethnic backgrounds. When local 3rd graders came to see the exhibition, they sat on the floor with our curator and had a conversation about immigrants and who in the mural identified as an American. One of the children pointed to a lady who was wearing a hijab and said to the group “she is not an American.” A lively and important discussion followed in which the third graders tried to evaluate the statues of newly arrived immigrants and who gets to become an American.

Q. How has the public’s perception of the Arts changed over the years?

A. I believe we have opened up our view point of what art is. Historically, our museums and exhibition halls have exhibited primarily Western art. In recent years, the public has become more attuned and welcoming to art practices of artists of different nationalities and diverse ethnic backgrounds. That’s a good thing. It’s a big world with lots of different viewpoints to embrace.

Q. How has ArtsWestchester helped support diversity, equality and inclusion?

A. ArtsWestchester’s core belief is that the arts are for everyone and our policies reflect that mantra. Our mission is to create an equitable, inclusive, vibrant and sustainable Westchester County in which the arts are integral to and integrated into every facet of life. In recent years, we have worked side by side with a coalition of 16 organizations who plan and implement Juneteenth celebrations in their communities. This effort has grown into a countywide celebration with events in every corner of Westchester.

Q. How important are the Arts in our local communities? In our local schools?

A. Every community should have access to arts programs. One way to accomplish that is through the schools. However, with recent emphasis on careers in science and technology, many schools have lessened arts activities. I believe that the arts should be prominent in every community through libraries, independent cultural centers, and performance settings. In addition to learning the progress of art civilizations it is also fundamental for citizens, especially youths, to have opportunities to express themselves through the arts.

Q. What do you hope to see in the future with regard to the arts for both the artists and the local community?

A. I would love to see every community have its own unique articulation of the arts, one that is dedicated to expanding our understanding and tolerance for various types of cultural expressions be it through painting, film, or theater. Art gives us the tools to understand the world.

Q. What is the best advice you can share with your successor?

A. Stay calm and carry on.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. Well let’s see, next for me is what I’ve been doing all my life. Supporting artist, still working for equitable practices in the cultural arena, going back to painting my own works if I still remember how, and consulting in places where I can make a difference. Those are in no particular order other than having fun which comes first.

As a contemporary culture magazine with a singular focus on the arts, venü is honored to recognize Janet for the treasure that she is. We share her belief that art has the power to change the way we see the world, awakening us to new perspectives, instilling awareness of social issues and fostering a sense of acceptance that brings people together in new ways. And thank her for all she’s done with ArtsWestchester to shine a spotlight where it’s needed most. ☐

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