Fifteen years ago when artist Jillian Van Volkenburgh was commissioned by John Cain, executive director at South Shore Arts, to do a painting for his kitchen, the two had no idea that she would one day work as one of his directors.
"I feel like this position is the culmination of my career," says Van Volkenburgh, who began as director of education at South Shore Arts in November.
In 2013 it was the first time in 10 years there were two director positions open at South Shore Arts.
"We had known Jillian as an artist for many years - she has exhibited with us off and on so she was definitely a consideration," says Cain. "Being that Jillian is from our region, I think it helps her understand the needs, limitations, hopes and aspirations people from northwest Indiana have. Overall, she is a good fit."
Van Volkenburgh, who has a degree in Art Education from Calumet College of St. Joseph, has an extensive background which includes art teacher, fine art and antique appraiser and nonprofit program coordinator. The skills acquired from previous jobs are applied daily to Van Volkenburgh's position as she has numerous responsibilities. For example she coordinates educational programs for both South Shore Arts and the Northwest Indiana Symphony. She also oversees close to 50 people.
"Jillian's biggest responsibility is to create programs for our everykid Program. It serves 28,000 kids per year in Lake and Porter counties," says Cain. "If we have a school that wants a special program to include X,Y,Z they would come to us and work with Jillian to develop that program."
The everykid Program allows Van Volkenburgh to expose art in underserved communities.
"It's a life skills program that's infused into an art program. We can provide a class with creative ways to deal with social developments such as anger management or anti-drug," says Van Volkenburgh.
Elaine Kisisel, long-time friend and mentor, says it's this part of Van Volkenburgh's job where her strengths are accentuated. "She is very organized and creative. She has good ideas and isn't somebody that just drops a project, she follows through and helps it evolve," says Kisisel. "Jillian is very caring. She always had an interest helping kids in East Chicago and Gary. She sees their potential and is willing to expand their opportunities."
As education director, there may be meetings and lesson plans but as an artist Van Volkenburgh has no definitive boundaries. Her compassion for people and love of traveling, history and architecture has always led her to create in some form, with all kinds of mediums.
"As an artist I started exhibiting my paintings first, then my photography, but I have always done them both simultaneously. It just depends on where my inspiration takes me. I have been exhibiting my photography pretty regularly over the past five years," says Van Volkenburgh.
Van Volkenburgh says she likes to bring informative art to the viewer about where she has visited. She doesn't have to travel to Thailand or Cambodia to find beauty - she finds that locally too.
"We live in such a diverse area: cornfields, rural, urban, the lake. The region is incredibly diverse in culture and there is so much history," says Van Volkenburgh. "I like to shoot people right now. The human figure has always been done historically in art: nudes, portraits, etc. so I kind of stayed away from that because it was so traditional. But it's so relatable and I think we can keep reinventing it - it's not going to be the same thing."
Van Volkenburgh took a series of pictures documenting change in a transgenered man. In 2012 Van Volkenburgh submitted one of the pictures to the Kinsey Institute Juried Exhibition at Grunwald Gallery of Art in Bloomington, Ind. The picture was one of 100 pictures selected nationwide and Van Volkenburgh was also one of 10 artists chosen to speak on a panel discussion regarding the photograph. A juried exhibition is when an art piece which is chosen for exhibition by a person or a group of judges.
"I enjoy and will continue to enter juried shows. Juried exhibitions keep me working, challenging myself, and keep me from being complacent. Selling has never been a driving factor for creating," says Van Volkenburgh.
Van Volkenburgh will be traveling to New York in May for the New York Center for Photographic Arts Juried Exhibit called Primary Colors.