The Old Sculpin Gallery begins their summer season with a new manager, Jennifer Kowal, fresh out of a museum studies masters program at Johns Hopkins. Ms. Kowal, a native of Canterbury, Connecticut, began her post in April.
The previous manager, Kat Cope, resigned last winter as her own artistic career has begun to consume more of her time. The manager position is an “extremely demanding job,” which is suited to a young person, said Sara Aibel, president of the board of directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association, which is housed at the gallery.
The gallery is “lucky to have found Ms. Kowal,” to take the seasonal position, Ms. Aibel said. “She is very poised, and very intelligent, but also has a very easy, laid-back manner.”
Ms. Kowal was attracted to the position because it is both a gallery and a community-based nonprofit. The gallery has a permanent collection of 120 works, dating back to the early 19th century.
During her interview, the board was most impressed by Ms. Kowal’s emphasis on the community involvement of an arts organization, according to Ms. Aibel. The MVAA has 60 members, most of whom are summer residents, so they are always looking to increase the organization’s participation in the Island’s year-round community.
Ms. Kowal also plans to prioritize the maintenance of the historical building itself which has had over the years a number of incarnations, from whale oil factory to boat building shop. The building, which became a gallery in the 1950s, is not winterized making off-season programming on-site impossible.
“I think my immediate goal is to improve the actual building,” Ms. Kowal said, naming structural improvements to the art instruction space upstairs, as well as painting, installing new lighting and purchasing new furniture. “I think organizations should always be looking to grow and improve.”
Ms. Kowal was impressed to find a vibrant arts community on such a small Island. “I really didn’t know much about Martha Vineyard apart from it just being a vacation destination,” she said.
This week, Ms. Kowal is helping out with the first Painting the Vineyard paint-out, a three-day fundraising event where association artists paint en plein air at different sites around the Island.
She said the curious shape of the gallery, and the busy location attract public attention. Still, the gallery is not located within the Edgartown arts district, and many passersby mistake the gallery for a Chappy ferry office.
Ms. Kowal is looking for ways to increase younger membership in the association.
“I think it’s important to have members that have been in the organization for a long time, they have seen the changes, they know what works, they know what doesn’t . . . but it’s also important to bring in younger people,” she said.
As an anthropology major in college, Ms. Kowal had originally intended to work with artifact collections in a museum setting. She hadn’t thought a lot about the art world.
“It wasn’t necessarily part of my plan, but sometimes you don’t know where life takes you,” she said. “I’m glad the opportunity arose because I feel like I am a more well-rounded individual now.”