A lot has changed since Susan Glasser moved from Richmond in the early 2000s, when the city was better known nationally for its murder rate and population decline than public art.
When Glasser returned in 2016 to care for her aging parents, she says she happily discovered a different Richmond — one with momentum that's "finding its roots again."
There was a time when downtown emptied out after work, with everyone leaving for the suburbs. "Now you have people sitting at outdoor cafes," she says, "there's pedestrian traffic — the dynamic of the city has just increased so much."
And the urban life isn't centered only on Virginia Union or Virginia Commonwealth University, she adds: "It's all over downtown and I love that energy."
Glasser moved to Richmond during high school. She stayed for college, completing a bachelor of fine arts degree at Virginia Commonwealth University and some graduate studies there before heading for graduate school at the University of Virginia.
She also got experience in Richmond's art world, serving as a program manager at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, executive director of what's now the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and executive director of Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives.
Now she hopes to capitalize on her background and what she sees as the city's new energy as the newly appointed coordinator of Richmond's Public Art Commission. She started April 15, filling the job vacated by Ellyn Parker in August.
In all, Glasser brings two decades of nonprofit leadership experience to the position.
While looking after her parents, she was an independent consultant for such local organizations as the Powhatan Habitat for Humanity, and served as a visiting professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her doctorate in art history in 2011.
Glasser also is the former president and chief executive of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center and held senior positions at the Smithsonian Institution and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Her skill set includes managing budgets of more than $3 million.
That should be helpful when she takes on the budget of the Public Art Commission, for which she serves as secretary. The commission received $150,000 in the recent city budget, in addition to its $1 million in reserve.
While Glasser sees similarities between museums and public art, she acknowledges that there are differences.
"Public art in Richmond really has a mandate to use art to further the mission in City Hall," she says. "It needs to be a gateway. In many ways, it's people's entree into art. People, who are too intimidated to walk through the doors of a museum or gallery, can encounter the Maggie Walker memorial or the [Mickael Broth sculpture] in front of Hull Street Library."
Glasser's appointment comes alongside an overhaul of the commissioners.
They are appointed to three-year terms with the possibility of a one-term renewal, which meant that five commissioners finished their terms in the spring — including Chairwoman Sarah Cunningham. The Planning Commission approved six new commissioners May 13.
Ashley Kistler, who has been elected as the chairwoman, Anne Fletcher and Mark Olinger are the only holdover members of the 11-person commission.
Kistler and Glasser worked together before at the Virginia Museum and again when she recruited and hired Kistler at the Visual Arts Center. "I think she's a spectacular curator [and] art specialist," Glasser says. "She's just a gem for the city."
The Public Art Commission is armed with a new long-range master plan adopted by the city last year, and seems energized to hit the ground running.
But there's a lot of administrative groundwork needed during the next four to five months, Glasser says, before the public starts seeing new initiatives. Her top priorities are drafting new ordinances and completing what she calls "back of house work," to ensure that funds from the commission aren't siphoned off to other city projects.
"What happened last year with money slipping away," she says, citing when City Council used funds for other projects — "that kind of thing cannot happen again."
During this period, Glasser hopes to take on one or two public art projects. She's especially keen on considering art in underserved, specifically the 1st, 4th and 9th districts.
With the long-range plan, the Public Art Commission will have more latitude to seek funding from outside grants and community partnerships, which overcomes the previous funding limitations tied to capital improvement projects.
The master plan also elevates the coordinator position to a permanent, full-time position. Previously, the coordinator served at the discretion of the mayor and was funded from the 1% for art program.
For now, Glasser is trying to get up to speed — signing into email, learning how to use the copier, and figuring out the bureaucratic system of the city. "It's just like any new job — it's just getting the mechanics down."