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Diane Shamash ’77

August 13, 2006, in New York, New York, from cervical cancer.

Diane devoted her life to bringing art to the people. Millions of people thrilled to the droll installations she organized on the streets of Seattle and an island that floated the waterways of New York. She understood the power of whimsy and said, “Just to have something out there that’s unusual and unexpected that makes people think is important.”

A native New Yorker, she grew up loving the city’s waterways and the nearby Hudson River Valley. Years later, she would name the nonprofit arts organization she founded Minetta Brook, after a stream that once flowed through what is now Greenwich Village. Committed to strengthening the relationship between artists and communities, Minetta Brook presented public art projects, publications, and exhibitions throughout New York State—reflecting the ecological, historical, and social organism of the place.

After attending Reed for one year, Diane went on to earn a masters of science degree in visual studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She became the curator of modern art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and then gallery director for the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts.

Moving to Seattle, she became the director of public art for the Seattle Arts Commission from 1987 through 1993. In Public, her imaginative series of temporary public art works commissioned from artists around the world, won honors from the U.S. Conference of Mayors as “a model for an effective strategy in public education.” Diane broadened the idea of what public art could be, hiring artist Cris Bruch, for example, to create a road to nowhere paved with bales of castoff clothes. Gloria Bornstein and Donald Fels created waterfront plaques that put a new spin on historic-interest markers.

Traveling the world lecturing about public art, Diane served as a consultant for the Dia Center for the Arts, Scenic Hudson, the Marian Goodman Gallery, The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia, Parrish Art Museum, and the Architectural League of New York. She wrote articles and reviews for Art in America, Art Monthly, and Documents magazine.

Her commitment to artists and place resulted in her founding Minetta Brook in 1995. In 2002, it produced riverrun, where for two weeks works by Richard Serra, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Peter Hutton, and Colleen Mulrenan were projected on the façade of the Holland Tunnel Ventilation Building for an audience of 2.5 million. That was followed by Watershed: The Hudson Valley Art Project, where 10 artists presented site-specific works that engaged the natural and cultural geography of the Hudson River. By 2005, Minetta Brook was involved in numerous projects, including advancing the High Line artist collaboration with Anna Hamilton and Alice Waters.

That year, the Whitney Museum of American Art put together a retrospective of the artworks of Robert Smithson. As executive director of Minetta Brook, Diane worked in conjunction with the museum to realize Smithson’s Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island, a planted barge circumnavigating Manhattan Island. Conceived and sketched by Smithson in the ’70s, Floating Island would be a flat barge covered with soil, trees, rocks. and shrubs, pulled by a tugboat up and down the Hudson and East rivers. Following a plane crash in 1973, Smithson died without ever having seen his project realized.

Diane and Minetta Brook brought Floating Island to life—with the assistance of the Hudson River Park Trust and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. She was battling cancer and had undergone chemotherapy and radiation when construction commenced on Floating Island. She worked 16-hour days bringing the project to life, never letting her colleagues know of her illness. Floating Island, the 30 x 90-foot landscaped barge, circumnavigated Manhattan for nine days. Nearly a year later, Diane died at her Brooklyn Heights home at the age of 51, survived by her husband, Joseph Bartscherer, her son, Max, and her sister, Beba Shamash.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2021

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