Westbeth’s first president looks to honor history while expanding vision

Ellen Salpeter, above, has been appointed the first president and CEO of Wesbeth. (Photo by Grace Roselli)

BY GABE HERMAN | With Westbeth approaching its 50th anniversary in 2020, the West Village arts institution has named its first president and CEO.

Ellen F. Salpeter was named to the position by the Westbeth Board of Directors. Salpeter was previously Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, where she led the completion and opening of a new permanent facility for the museum.

Salpeter’s other previous positions include Deputy Director, External Affairs for the Jewish Museum in New York, and Founding Director of Heart of Brooklyn, a partnership of Brooklyn cultural institutions.

Salpeter said her vision includes a mix of honoring the past and looking to the future of Westbeth, which has been an affordable live-work space for artists at 55 Bethune St. since 1970.

“It’s an enormous opportunity with a 50-year-old organization,” said Salpeter, “with what we love about its history and how we might change to stay relevant to future generations of artists. I consider myself an institution builder, and Westbeth has an extraordinary five decades to build on. And the future is right ahead of us in a changing community.”

Salpeter does not have specific plans just yet for Westbeth, but emphasized the importance of keeping affordable housing and studio space, along with arts programming at low or no cost, to prevent barriers of cost when it comes to arts. “Making sure every community has access to the arts,” she said. “It’s important to place Westbeth as a model to keep cultural producers in the community.”

Salpeter has started doing outreach to get to know the Westbeth community, including a recent open house. “I think that’s an evolutionary process for me,” she said.

Westbeth, above, was founded in 1970. (Photo by Jack Kucy)

Of her early impressions of the community, she said, “I think they want to be respected as artists.” That includes places to show work, recognition and reaching bigger audiences. “I don’t think they want anything different than what other people want,” Salpeter said.

The upcoming 50th anniversary was a big influence in deciding to name Westbeth’s first president and CEO, according to Joe Versace, Chair of the Board of Directors. He echoed the importance of keeping affordable housing for artists, along with expanding the mission. “We really looked at the campus of Westbeth and were thinking of the future, with an anchor of the past,” he said.

“Ellen brings a remarkable combination of the skills we need,” said Versace, citing Salpeter’s deep background in the arts, respect in the industry and her experience working in New York. He said she has an “enthusiastic and informed vision of what could be, and her experience in the past has demonstrated she is a big but thoughtful thinker.”

The city has changed rapidly, as has the West Village, Versace said, but he noted that the artists’ role in society continues to be vital. He said he hopes Westbeth and the Village community can benefit each other through open engagement.

“We want Westbeth to be a vital neighbor, and a destination in Greenwich Village and New York City,” Versace said. He added that he wants Westbeth to be a place filled with artistic energy, and that it “can be a leader and model for how the notion of providing housing and space and place for art can be accomplished.”