Purdue Profiles: Judy Jacobi

September 20, 2011

Judy Jacobi, assistant vice chancellor for marketing and campus relations at Purdue University North Central, shares her excitement for art and sculpture with the campus community.

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Growing up in New York City, Judy Jacobi was introduced to the world of theater, music, visual arts and literature early on. From attending her first Broadway production at age 6 to taking life painting courses at The New School in Greenwich Village while still in high school, Jacobi has been constantly cultivating her knowledge and passion for art of all kinds.

As assistant vice chancellor for marketing and campus relations at Purdue University North Central, she shares her enthusiasm for the arts with the campus community. Along with acting as chief marketer and an advertising agent for PNC, Jacobi has helped turn the campus into an outdoor exhibit of public sculpture and an art gallery that extends from classrooms to the walls of the Gallery Café cafeteria. 

Was there a particular moment when you knew the arts had to be a part of your career?

For me, I think it was all about exposure. When I was younger, my grandmother would take me to street art shows, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Modern in New York City. Every year, my family would attend the best shows -- "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," the Young People's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. So it wasn't a moment per se, but many moments that led to my interest in the arts. Even if art hadn't become part of my career, it still would have been an important part of my life.

What experiences have led to your current position as assistant vice chancellor for marketing and campus relations?

I always tell students not to be surprised if they end up in three or four different careers in their productive work lives. That's exactly what I did. I wanted to be an art historian, but realized I would probably be confined to a basement restoring medieval tapestries. So I majored in sociology and anthropology and got my master's in public health.

From "stones and bones" and population studies to gerontology and community mental health education, I took the skills I needed, and some friends and I opened the first full-service advertising agency in LaPorte County, Indiana. The agency was a terrific place to mix the creativity of all the arts with the demands of clear communication, which is necessary for my current position at PNC.

Part of your responsibility at the University is organizing the Odyssey Contemporary Sculpture Exhibit. What exactly is this?

The idea for bringing sculpture to PNC first came about in 1998 when I was still with the ad agency. The University didn't have the budget to purchase sculpture for permanent public display, so I had the idea to lease works and change some each year. With the help of a curator, who pulled the first work together, the exhibition debuted in 1999 and has been part of campus ever since.

We call it the Odyssey Sculpture and Arts Program to suggest the voyage our students experience during their time here. The exhibit includes a sculpture of Homer's Odysseus floating on our Bards' Pond. Since starting the year-round sculpture show, we have received extraordinary gifts of art, so our department's responsibility for the sculpture and art collections evolved from necessity. And my background in the arts has certainly helped.

Chancellor James Dworkin has been a great supporter of the program since he arrived at PNC 12 years ago. Part of our stated mission is to be a focal point for arts and culture, and he recognizes that arts contribute to our higher education mission and even our mission to help develop viable economic entities for our region.

Can you share a memorable experience from your time at PNC?

Two years ago we responded to an opportunity to receive a piece of the World Trade Center -- a remnant from 9/11 -- and it has finally arrived on campus. It is a rusted, mangled section of a beam from one of the towers. One side is raggedly sheared and the other is twisted from the impact of the attacks. It's a really exciting piece for us to have. It will be on permanent display in our Cybercafe with a series of paintings by an artist who narrowly missed being at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

What is your favorite part of the work you do?

Overall, it has been to see how the beautifully landscaped 268-acre campus and the artistic environment, punctuated by more than 25 sculptures, have become significant marketing and cultivation tools for PNC. Natural beauty, compelling art -- they're part of our world-class Purdue University brand.

It's been fun to take art out of the frame, if you will. Our buildings are art. The interior designs are art. The campus is art. People are so used to separating art from other disciplines, but that's not realistic anymore. Art is in everything we do, art and other disciplines hinge on one another and support one another, and I'm seeing more acceptance of this every year. People are starting to feel a sense of ownership for the art at our campus. I'm really happy about that because, really, it is everyone's.