COURTESY van alen institute
An official statement released today confirmed the rumor that had been circulating for weeks that Adi Shamir was stepping down as executive director at the Van Alen Institute (VAI). Stating that Shamir, who held the post for just over three years, planned “to devote her energies to family and to the completion of several books,” the press release announced that Joan Ockman, a Van Alen trustee and associate professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, would take over as interim director.
In a phone interview, Shamir told AN that it was a tough decision to leave but that her sabbatical was long overdue “since I was about 15, actually.” Noting that her goal had been to leverage the Institute’s 115-year “formidable history” in a way that would reinforce its public mission, she added that her real passion was for fostering the Institute as a place “for speculative work and supporting the generative stages that come before things are done and that help to set up civic engagement.” To that end she was instrumental in reviving the New York Prize Fellowship. This year’s senior fellowship award went to Maya Lin.
Board members said that the Institute wanted to return more actively to running the kind of competitions that lead to the wildly popular TKTS booth that opened this fall.
“We are going to hold a mini-retreat—more like an all-nighter—to discuss our identity and our position in the community in relation to the Center, the League, and Storefront,” said Jonathan Marvel of Rogers Marvel Architects, who joined the board in January. “Who does the Van Alen want to be? Before jumping into the search for Adi’s replacement, we want to get some perspective on who we are now.” He added that VAI had already received some 30 resumes about the job.
Soul-searching aside, Abby Hamlin, president of the board, said that no real change of direction was in the offing. “We will build on our strengths and continue the programs we are known for, the forums, competitions, and exhibitions.” With an annual budget that has slipped from about $800,000 to $600,000 but still drawing about one-third of their sustenance from owning the building they occupy at 30 West 22nd Street, the Van Alen Institute, Hamlin said, “is looking for someone who is comfortable with a public face, but not a professional fundraiser.” The search is expected to last about six months; Adi Shamir’s last day will be June 5.