When I reach Michi Jigarjian by phone on a Wednesday afternoon, she cautions that she’s left her camera off because she’s driving. “I just left Rockaway Beach, where we’ve just wrapped up on a community day with artist Julia Chiang that brought 50 kids together with the artist to create art based on her work,” says Jigarjian. The event is part of her focus to revitalize the Rockaway Beach community through social impact initiatives that pin art as their crux—including the launch of the Rockaway Beach Hotel through the investment firm 7G Group. For Jigarjian, art is the catalyst that can truly shake things up.
“Art can change the way we feel and think, and by creating a common visual culture in polarized communities, it can create a shared experience that doesn’t necessarily happen otherwise,” she says. “In the case of Rockaway, it plays that first point of contact and unseen tissue that people can land on and start a conversation, and it’s the start of that conversation that creates the change.”
Jigarjian has dedicated her career to inspiring that change, and has occupied numerous roles in her pursuit of aligning her creative talents with her business acumen and philanthropic zeal. The mother of three is the longtime President of Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York, where she has completely innovated the nearly 150-year-old artist-founded organization to become a critical talent discovery platform for emerging lens-based artists. She leads the organization despite a demanding post as partner and chief impact officer at 7G Group, serving as a trustee at YoungArts, and maintaining her own artistic and writing practice. With a laundry list of accomplishments that would send anyone into a tailspin, Jigarjian seems unabashedly unfazed, as though juggling it all were a requirement and not a choice.
“Growing up, when people said I couldn’t do something, I’d say watch me,” she laughs. “In my career, I center decision-making with how much impact I can make. The interconnectivity of my career is boundless.”
Like the comingling of public art projects like Chiang’s in Rockaway Beach and with the Rockaway Hotel, Baxter St’s partnership with YoungArts is another example of her endless pursuit for alignment. From the start of her stint with Baxter St, Jigarjian understood that photography had the power to reach people uniquely as an accessible and largely democratic medium. “I wanted to uplift the voices at the center of that conversation,” she said, explaining how the organization prioritized offering artists solo exhibitions and mentorship opportunities that would propel their flourishing careers. Recently, the organization has partnered with YoungArts to offer award winners the chance to develop and show their work at the acclaimed institution; under this partnership, Bruce Bennett (2014 Photography) recently opened Easy When the Love Don’t Hide.
Whether working toward opening an exhibition or people’s hearts and minds, Jigarjian approaches everything she does through the same lens. “It became clear to me very early on,” she notes, “that community is my medium.”
About the Author:
Nicole Martinez is a cultural producer, writer and editor based in Miami. She is the associate director at Fountainhead Arts, an artist residency dedicated to elevating and supporting artist voices. Her writing has appeared in Cultured, Hyperallergic, Art Newspaper, Artsy, and others.
Follow her on Instagram: @niki_frsh