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Farewell to Our Rose

Rose O'Donnell posing with an installation from the 2018 Biennial Ikebana Show.
Rose O’Donnell posing with an installation from the 2018 Biennial Ikebana Show

It’s hard to believe that Rose O’Donnell was ever a newcomer to The Art League because, for many, she is synonymous with the organization. When Rose arrived in spring 2006, fresh to the east coast and to The Art League gallery, she didn’t know how deeply the organization and the role of Gallery Director would impact her. After 10 years as Gallery Director and Supporter Relations and Development Associate for over two years, Rose has been back as Gallery Director since April 1. Now that she’s on the precipice of moving on to the next chapter in her life, we wanted to sit down with Rose and asked her to talk about her career at The Art League, how the gallery has changed over the years, and what she’ll remember and miss most.

What are the biggest ways in which the gallery has changed over the last 12 years?

The way we communicate is by far the biggest change The Art League has seen over the last 12 years. And, it’s completely transformed how we engage with our community.

Our monthly Tidings newsletter, which used to be sent in the (snail) mail, was our only consistent communication with our artist members. Now we communicate with them (and everyone connected to The Art League) digitally – through email, social media, our blog, and more. During our 60th Anniversary year in 2014, Diane Blackwell’s piece Happy in the “POP Exhibit” garnered so much attention online – it was crazy! That made me realize the power and reach the Internet has and what an important communication tool it can be.

How have the artists and the artwork exhibited changed?

If you walked into the gallery today after being away for awhile, you wouldn’t notice a huge change as far as the type of work hanging on the walls. Although the gallery space has changed cosmetically, what has really evolved is the exhibiting artist membership.

We have a more diverse group of exhibiting artist members than we did 10 years ago, which I think can be accredited to our digital presence and the many ways in which someone can be a member. Moving toward digital-only submissions really allows us to diversify even more, because it broadens our juror pool and makes it easier for more artists to submit their work.

Artists often ask what type of work sells best. I’ve learned that there is no magic formula for what people will buy. There wasn’t 12 years ago and there isn’t now. People buy what they love, and artists should paint, draw, sculpt, photograph, and print what they love.

What was your favorite exhibit?

The “POP Exhibit” during our 60th Anniversary year definitely remains a favorite. It was fun, the work was inventive, the publicity we received was amazing, and we had a great juror – Robin Nicholson from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond.

HerStory” and “The Feminist Movement in Art” were other favorites. We did a retablo exhibit in 2011 to coincide with Day of The Dead called “Altars, Icons, and Reliquaries.” It didn’t quite take off the way I imagined but I think the subject still has a lot of potential. 

Diane Blackwell's Happy garnered international media coverage
Diane Blackwell’s Happy garnered international media coverage

What has been your most meaningful accomplishment?

In addition to watching artists grow in their work, I feel that playing a role in getting the IMPart participants to show their work in the gallery was very important. To see Jon Meadows’ amazing artwork and get an honest and powerful view of what he experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan… that’s what The Art League is all about and shows that art can change lives.

What will you miss most?

Absolutely the people. I’ve been so inspired by the people I’ve met. Many people don’t realize how diverse the gallery membership is – we have a former US Senator as an exhibiting artist member! It’s been wonderful to watch so many talented, determined, and driven artists grow and succeed. I will miss everyone.

At a gallery reception
At a gallery reception with members

What are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to focusing on my own artwork (!) and spending time with family.

What are your hopes for the gallery in the future?

I hope the gallery continues to be a space where all artists feel welcome and can learn and grow in their creative lives

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