Martin Art Gallery’s New Director Sees Muhlenberg as a Place Where “the Arts Are Really Valued”

In her first months in the role, Jessica Ambler is prioritizing student and faculty involvement in the gallery’s exhibitions and in displays she’s helping to curate throughout campus.

By: Meghan Kita  Thursday, March 16, 2023 09:42 AM

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Martin Art Gallery Director Jessica Ambler speaks to attendees at the opening reception for “The Woman Who Says No,” an exhibition of Françoise Gilot lithographs. Photos by Ash Miller

Martin Art Gallery Director Jessica Ambler, who joined the College in December, is excited to be back in higher education. While she’s taught at several institutions, including Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design and Fashion Institute of Technology, she most recently worked as a curator for Loupe, Inc., a streaming art platform.

“I missed being in a [higher ed] setting, in particular working with students and also faculty, the exchange of ideas that happens and the ability to use art as a teaching tool rather than looking at it as an asset class,” says Ambler, who holds a Ph.D. in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara. “I love that [Muhlenberg is] a small liberal arts campus where the arts are really valued.”

Ambler is preparing to launch the gallery’s second exhibition of the semester. Bifurcated Mind, a collection of works by Senior Lecturer of Drawing and Sculpture Kevin Tuttle, will run from Monday, March 20, through Friday, April 21. This follows an exhibition of Françoise Gilot lithographs from the College’s permanent collection, which ended March 3.

Despite her title, Ambler’s purview extends well beyond Martin Art Gallery. She has been in touch with the Office of Alumni Affairs about displaying alumni art in Seegers Union, and she’s been collaborating with three student gallery assistants as they curate an exhibition of student art that will open in the new Fahy Commons before the end of the semester. Those same gallery assistants have been instrumental in helping Ambler get a handle on the College’s collection of more than 3,000 works spread across campus.

“My gallery assistants have been going from building to building, documenting what’s where, what’s been moved, what condition our work is in,” Ambler says. “They’re learning how to catalog art and do art research as we get a really good handle on the collection. The more you look, the more you see. I’d like to do a better job of highlighting that, by updating the wall labels and moving things around so people take notice.”

As Ambler continues to familiarize herself with the College’s collection and the campus and Lehigh Valley art communities, she has also started a lecture series that will bring some of her contacts to campus to talk to students about their careers. The first event centered on exhibition design; future subjects may include art therapy and appraising.

“I really appreciate the fact that this is a [college] art gallery, and we serve not only the broader community but the students,” she says. “I’m going to have one lecturer per semester … for all the students who are talking to me, saying, ‘How did you get a job doing this?’”

Upcoming Events at Martin Art Gallery:

Bifurcated Mind
A collection of works by Senior Lecturer of Drawing and Sculpture Kevin Tuttle
March 20 - April 21, Martin Art Gallery
Opening Reception: Wednesday, March 22, from 5 - 7 p.m.
Gallery Talk: Wednesday, March 29, from 5 - 6 p.m. 

Immediate Expression
A collection of works by contemporary artist AJ Rojas
April 3 - August 18, Baker Center for the Arts Galleria
Artist Meet & Greet: Monday, April 3, from 1 - 3 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public.