CGN Interview Series: Jennifer Murray, Filter Photo

Each week CGN interviews a local art-world professional to discuss the ins and outs of running a gallery in the city of Chicago. This week we caught up with Jennifer Muray, Executive Director of Filter Photo.


Age: 45

Current Position: Executive Director, Filter Photo

Hometown: Chicago

Previous Occupation: Director, A+D Gallery, Columbia College Chicago


5 favorites from the past week

Restaurant: Charlie was a Sinner, cute little bar with lovely cocktails, Philadelphia (I was traveling for the Society for Photographic Education’s Annual Conference)
Shop: Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, all you ever need and more.
Read: The New York Times daily briefing is about all I’ve had time for lately.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Square, close to home, easy to walk, good coffee
Music: Black Panther! 


CGN: Tell us about your background and how your position with Filter Photo came to be?

JM: I was director of A+D Gallery, at Columbia College Chicago for over ten years.  The gallery closed a few years ago to make way for the expansion of Shop Columbia but it was a dedicated non-profit space exhibiting a broad roster of art and design based exhibitions.  Additionally, I’m trained in photography and primarily work in photography as a visual artist and curator.  I’ve taught photography for over 15 years, first at Columbia and now at Loyola University Chicago.  The combination of my engagement in the photography community and my non-profit gallery experience was a natural fit for the Executive Director position at Filter Photo.  I took over for Sarah Hadley and James Pepper Kelly in 2016.


CGN: Give us a day in the life!

JM: Varied!  As an arts administrator and educator who is also trying to plug away at a personal practice each day is a bit of everything.  Like so many people in the arts I wear many hats and have several email accounts to stay on top of. But, I do like a routine, so I’m good at compartmentalizing my time.  In addition to the non-stop email catch up, I also meet with artists, staff, and board members regularly and do a lot of writing and proof reading for Filter communications and grants.  I’m currently sending out invitations to professionals to join us at the 2018 Filter Photo Festival in September, brainstorming for our workshops and artist talks for the Festival and working with the Filter board of directors on updating our 5-year plan.  I teach a few days a week and look forward to critiques with my students.  Every few weeks you’ll find me at Filter Space installing artwork and tweaking the lights.


CGN: Share some successes as well as challenges this year.

JM: We are very excited about the success of our newly launched Photography Book Club; it’s an open access group that meets once a month to discuss photography books, historical through contemporary.  3-5 books are featured every month.  The first meeting in February was a great success.  I think people are hungry for opportunities to engage with one another around like-minded topics, looking to build community, and share their passions.  We’re happy that Filter Photo can provide a space for that kind of engagement and connect people.

Challenges…hmm.  Running a non-profit organization dedicated to photography is definitely challenging.  Photography is this weird word that can mean so many different things.  We spend a lot of time explaining what we mean by photography by defining the term contemporary photography through the examples found in our exhibition program and other community-based programs like the book club and professional development workshops.  Our hope is that more and more photographers working in a purely aesthetic and formal way will push their practice into a more content-driven and conceptual arena.  We want to provide opportunities for them to make that transition and support that process for anyone working in photography.


CGN: What do you want to tell a young person considering this business?

JM: The connections you make and maintain with people are the most important.  The obvious things like a good work ethic are also important – respond to email, be on time, carry your weight, and contribute to the conversation are always key.  But it’s the relationships that you build with people that will move you forward, whether you are the artist, director, curator, or administrator.  Showing up really is half the battle - not just to promote yourself but supporting your colleagues and peers as well.


CGN: What do you look for in an artwork? When searching for yourself, what speaks to you?

JM: I need to be able to live with the work; it needs to enhance my daily life as I move through my home.  I don’t mean in a purely decorative way, but in a way that makes me think and connect with my other interests.


CGN: Favorite cultural pursuit outside of the art world?

JM: I have a morbid sense of curiosity.  My graduate thesis work was on cabinets of curiosity so anything collection, taxonomy, and natural history based will interest me.  I was just at The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia for the first time; it’s this amazing medical museum with anatomical anomalies, specimens, surgical implements, and the like on display.  The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles is perhaps my favorite museum in the world and the plants and flora exhibit, which is tucked away on the second floor of The Field Museum in the old 19th century display cases, is always on my list of things to see.


CGN: What should we expect to see from Filter Photo in 2018?

JM: Filter Photo has an exciting year planned.  This spring we are hosting two professional development workshops – The Evolving Landscape of Photography Publishing with Michael Itkoff of Daylight Books in March; and Getting Seen, Getting Shown: Professional Practices for Photographers with Sasha Wolf and Jess T. Dugan in April.  Spots still available in both workshops! 

We just launched our annual call for exhibition proposals for the 2019-2020 exhibition season at Filter Space.  This is such a great opportunity to get your work seen by our panel of reviewers.  Unlike a strict voting process, the review panel really discusses the proposals and makes decisions about the next year of exhibitions.

September 27 - 30 we are celebrating the 10th Annual Filter Photo Festival with 4 days of artist talks, portfolio reviews, workshops, and exhibition openings.  We are slowly rolling out the programming and just announced Mona Kuhn as the keynote speaker on September 27th.  All artist talks, exhibitions, and evening events are free and open to the public – we hope to see you there!


Jennifer Murray is the Executive Director of Filter Photo in Chicago. For more information about the space please visit: Filter Photo.