The Art World at Home: Curator Michi Jigarjian Is Helping Plan a Giant Mural in Rockaway and Growing Squash in Her Garden

The president of the Baxter St camera club tells us about some of the causes to which she's most dedicated.

Michi Jigarjian. Photo by Matthew Placek, courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

The art world is slowly coming out of lockdown, but many decision-makers and creatives are still staying close to home. In this series, we check in with curators, historians, and other art-world professionals to get a peek into their day-to-day.

Juggling home and work life is no simple task; ask Michi Jigarjian, a curator and the president of the Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York.

In between her work as a curator at the Rockaway Hotel and her Baxter St at CCNY obligations, Jigarjian is also parenting three children and working with the Campaign Against Hunger to help those in need.

Jigarjian opened up to Artnet News about what she’s reading, what she’s fighting for, and what she’s been whipping up in the kitchen.

What are you working on right now?

The Rockaway Hotel has really occupied the majority of my time. Community is a key pillar of the hotel and as a partner, curator, and social impact officer, I have curated the property with local and international artists and led the team on a number of programs that offer support to the already amazing community. One of our upcoming initiatives is the Big Yard Mural Project, which we are launching with the Friends of Seaside Playground and Waterside Children’s Studio School. It will help to raise awareness for the public park, which is adjacent to the hotel.

We are also proud to be sponsoring the augmented reality Liberty Bell Project by artist Nancy Baker Cahill, a public art installation around the Rockaway Peninsula presented by the Art Production Fund in partnership with Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, which launched on July 4.

Additionally, Baxter St at CCNY, the organization I’m president of, is always an ongoing priority for my practice and daily workflow. While we were closed during the pandemic we were really able to evaluate the purpose and focus of the organization’s programming. We are so excited to reopen our doors with the exhibition “I’m here to entertain you, but only during my shift,” a solo exhibition by Joiri Minaya, organized by curator Corrine Y. Gordon. It opened on August 25 and is running through September 30, by appointment only.

Walk us through the when, where, and how of your approach to this project on a regular day.

During this pandemic, boundaries at home have become translucent. Spending time alone has become seemingly impossible even in the most commonly private places; for example, my three-year-old daughter Roe is currently singing under my desk while I am writing these answers. As a mother of three, my workday at home is riddled with constant interruptions; the more I push up against them the louder they get, so I just try to stay in the moment. What that essentially means for me is that I work with a tight efficient team and have intermittent spurts of productivity.

In the world of Zoom meetings and teaching online, I just had to give in and allow my life to spill over. In most cases, I don’t get much pushback when a smiling curly-haired toddler pops up to make an appearance.

The interior of Michi Jigarjian's home. Courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

The interior of Michi Jigarjian’s home. Courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

What is bothering you right now (other than having to deal with these questions)?

It’s difficult to hone in on exactly what is bothering me right now because there are so many issues that have heightened during the pandemic. COVID-19 has become a metaphor for the social inequalities in our country; from the systemic racism to food insecurity, and its long-lasting effects on the educational gap for our children. To say I am bothered would be an understatement.

As a Mexican American, as a mother raising three anti-racist children, and as a cultural facilitator, my anger motivates me to work within my community towards change. We must do better, we must do more, and we must work harder to ensure these historic protests create policies for a better world, one that we all want to live in.

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

Probably something my husband Charlie said. He makes me laugh every day; his wit and coffee have saved our marriage more than once.

Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? If so, why?

NPR all day, every day. I love Brain Pickings, especially the audio component on Soundcloud. I am reading Zadie Smith’s Imitations right now. It is a collection of inspiring, relevant, and timely essays written during the lockdown.

The interior of Michi Jigarjian's home. Courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

The interior of Michi Jigarjian’s home. Courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

What is your favorite part of your house and why?

The morning sunlight that makes its way through the trees into our living room.

What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why?

Sadie Barnette’s Untitled (Calculator). In the photograph, Sadie placed appliqué crystals on an inoperable LifeLong calculator, the one we all used in middle and high school in the ’90s. In so many ways, the simplicity of crafting on a timeless educational tool creates a visual act of resistance. Nodding towards some of the darkest parts of American history, Sadie bridges a narrative gap through personal, familial, and cultural histories.

I had the pleasure of working with Sadie on her first solo show in New York, “Do Not Destroy,” curated by Alexandra Giniger at Baxter St at CCNY. That exhibition was the first showing of her FBI documents in New York right after our current administration had been inducted. It was a powerful, necessary exhibition that ignited so many conversations around systemic racism. Sadie is one of my favorite artists, her voice as an activist and artist is one that I believe will have a longstanding presence in the contemporary art dialogue.

Sadie Barnette, Untitled (Calculator) (2018).

Sadie Barnette, Untitled (Calculator) (2018).

Are there any causes you support that you would like to share? If so, what, and why is it/are they important?

The Campaign Against Hunger is one of the most trusted nonprofits working to end hunger and build health in our local communities. As we witness the vastly disproportionate economic and social impacts of COVID-19 on already struggling New Yorkers, we know many of our neighbors are in need of emergency food for their families. During COVID, I was part of the team that launched a partnership with TCAH and the Brooklyn Museum to offer food distribution at the museum. Now, the Rockaway Hotel is supporting TCAH through a multi-year donation and volunteering to help build their new urban farm and cafe in Far Rockaway, which will be opening in spring 2021.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Chile y Limón Fritos. My Tia Mague sends me a care package on my birthday every year filled with all my favorite childhood snacks from Mexico.

What’s going on in the kitchen these days? Any projects? And triumphs or tragedies?

After leaving the city in March, we came Upstate and I started spending time in the garden—we even got chickens! There is something so gratifying about starting the day with a fresh egg and tomatoes from your own backyard.

We also have been growing squash, zucchini, and eggplant which I have been trying a bunch of recipes; the crowd favorite has been eggplant parmigiana.

Squash from Michi Jigarjian's garden. Courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

Squash from Michi Jigarjian’s garden. Courtesy Michi Jigarjian.

Which two fellow art-world people, living or dead, would you like to convene for dinner, and why? 

This one is so hard to choose! I would love to have experienced a Bloody Sunday with Louise Bourgeois, which was her notoriously brutal critic sessions, and then go out afterward with the participants. It would also be so wonderful to have dinner with Felix Gonzalez-Torres and my dear friend and colleague, David Deitcher. I worked closely with David to edit and publish his book, Stone’s Throw, an intimate history that intertwines personal and historical narrative about the work of Gonzalez-Torres during the AIDS crisis.

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