Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Rachel Zimmerman | Executive Director, InLiquid

Interview :: Rachel Zimmerman
by Juanita Berge, 1 May 2009

Artist and Independent Curator Rachel Zimmerman founded the non profit InLiquid in 1999 as a means for increasing community and visibility for independent artists in the Philadelphia area; the site now has approximately 270 members, which includes artists from across the country.

In her role as Executive Director of InLiquid, she has devoted her personal resources toward creating opportunities for independent artists and arts organizations, not only through the web site but through a series of curated gallery exhibitions in various locations (including the Painted Bride Art Center, the Nexus Community Gallery, the Crane Arts Building, and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education) and through events such as "Art For the Cash Poor" and the annual Silent Auction, which has raised funds for children's art education programs. She is on the board of the Old City Arts Association and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

Zimmerman is also the partner of Studio Z Design, a graphic and web design firm which she started independently in 1994. She holds a BFA from the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and her photography is held in a number of permanent collections, including the George Eastman House Museum in Rochester NY.

PCG: You began your professional career as a photographer, did you not?

RZ: I studied photography at NYU but I was not planning on working as a photographer. I knew the commercial world was not for me. I wanted to be an artist and work with artists at a gallery or at an arts institution. I felt that if I made my living taking commercial pictures I would stop wanting to pick up a camera.

Unfortunately, the only jobs I could find in Philadelphia were either retail or bartending. I could not find a job. I didn't realize that a BFA in Photography was viewed as evidence of being illiterate.

My father runs the Pediatric Neuroradiology Department at Children's Hospital. He publishes a lot and was unhappy with the photographic work that was available. I started doing photography for him as well as a number of other departments at the Hospital. We joke that I am genetically predisposed to understanding the brain and spine. I probably should have been a doctor. To this day I still consider myself one of the most published photographers, as I have printed thousands of medical images.

"Nothing ever stays the same so if you do not have the flexibility or the desire to change your business is not going to be around for very long."

PCG: How did you move from photographer to partner in a graphic and web design firm?

RZ: After years and thousands of hours being the darkroom it became much more efficient and healthier to reproduce the images through a computer. I am not proficient at Photoshop so a friend of mine who is a graphic designer started working for me. Over the years our clients' needs have changed and we have always been available to expand our services. I think it is critical to keep challenging oneself and to continue to grow. Nothing ever stays the same so if you do not have the flexibility or the desire to change your business is not going to be around for very long.

When I became pregnant with my first child, Ivan, my husband left his job to start working with me. Coincidentally, he has a background in both medical photography and graphic design. We complement each other and it makes work much more rewarding to have a partner who has the same interest.

Since John and I have started working together we have expanded our business to include art consulting. I recently collaborated with Jocelyn Firth in putting artwork in the four lobbies at Park Towne Place. Also, John and I have formalized our medical imaging work into Studio Z Exhibits.

PCG: You're the founder and director of inLiquid? Tell us what that is.

RZ: I am going to cheat and give you one of our expanded mission statements: InLiquid is a unique 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization dedicated to expanding and promoting knowledge of visual culture in the Philadelphia region and beyond. InLiquid fills an invaluable niche as both an online and venue-based presenter of exhibitions and events that stimulate participation in the arts by a diverse and ever-broadening community of artists, professionals, and audiences. As a community hub, InLiquid has spurred new partnerships between artists and organizations; and due to the boundary-free nature of the Internet, InLiquid has brought Philadelphia's art scene to visitors worldwide, raising the profile of our region as a strong and vital cultural center.

PCG: What need did you see that wanted to be filled in the creation of InLiquid?

RZ: Most of my employees over the past 15 years of having my own business have been artists who make their living not as artists. As artists you have 3 jobs: making your art, marketing your art, and whatever you need to do to make a living. We created the organization to provide opportunities but also to make the art community more available to those who are interested in it. Someone who is interested in the Philadelphia Museum of Art might be interested in the Asian Arts Initiative -- they just need to know that it is there.

Philadelphia is a large city with a "poor" art market and not enough walls to show all the artists here. Having worked in NY galleries where a number of artists that I dealt with lived abroad, I feel there is no reason that someone can't live in Philadelphia and show in NY, LA, or Paris.

However, one of my main interests is to get people to buy artwork in Philadelphia. It is imperative that we create a sustainable art economy. There is a lot of good work being created here and it should be sold for fair market prices. If Philadelphia is going to be a great art city then the art community that is here needs to thrive so we can bring more diversified and challenging work. It's not only important to buy local artwork, but we need to be a place where national and international artists want to exhibit.

Ultimately, the site is a tool. By creating various programming and keeping the site content current we connect our members to the broadest audience possible. It works. Our artist members have been chosen for international and national exhibitions, they have sold work, and have even received job opportunities.

PCG: InLiquid has come quite a long way in its ten years of existence. What was the largest hurdle you had to jump?

RZ: Running an art nonprofit is always a challenge. Proving that a small visual arts organization is worthwhile of support is huge. It's difficult to compete with the bigger more established organizations so it's imperative that we cultivate new audiences.

Rachel Zimmerman | Executive Director, InLiquid

We can only be as good as our resources, which are limited at best, so we rely heavily on partnerships. To this end we have created a supporting membership with reciprocal benefits at various local nonprofits and retail businesses such as Art Star, Silicon Gallery, The Lantern Theater Company, and the Painted Bride to name a few. We have also revamped our online store, ShopInLiquid. Our hope is that people will be more interested in seeing their purchases directly support the community and actually benefit a person rather than a corporation. We want people to be aware that affordable – and exceptional -- artwork is available.

PCG: I imagine the applicants to InLiquid are many. What's your selection criteria?

RZ: We have three deadlines per year: February 10th, June 10th, and October 10th. Our main interest is that the work is done with a level of proficiency, that the person applying has a body of work that supports itself, and that the individual is committed to their work. Our interest is to show a wide range of artwork from painting to ceramics, reaching across all genres, and most importantly, to support working artists. Unlike most galleries or online venues, we don't emphasize or promote any particular style or aesthetic, so the site gives a true overview of exceptional contemporary art. Also, our artists are not restricted by geographic location so we have national and international members.

"I truly believe that success is through collaboration..."

PCG: What's been one of the highlights of your time with inLiquid?

RZ: Anytime an artist gets an opportunity through the site is still a thrill. It's rewarding to see that your hard work pays off and benefits other people. I truly believe that success is through collaboration and that InLiquid's success is through the aggregate of the artists, my staff, galleries, partners, and supporters involved.

PCG: You graduated from Leadership Philadelphia in 2008. What is that all about?

RZ: I am currently participating in a two-year emerging leadership program with the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative, which is part of The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. The first year of the program is to participate in Leadership Philadelphia while the second year is a one-on-one mentorship program with an established arts leader.

Leadership Philadelphia is a program that connects the private sector with the public. The idea is to teach civic awareness and leadership skills that will provide a framework for board service. As an Executive Director of a nonprofit it is critical to engage and network with corporate leaders and to continually engage potential board members.

PCG: You've been acknowledged as one of the 101 Emerging Connectors. Tell us about that.

RZ: Leadership Philadelphia, as part of their 50th anniversary, identified young local leaders as the 101 Emerging Connectors. The 101 Emerging Connectors, nominated by our peers, are leaders from different sectors and different parts of the region, who share a commitment to the common good, the ability to get things done, and the respect and trust of our friends and colleagues.

Identifying and bringing the connectors together is not only an acknowledgement of the work that is being done. It enables us to have an opportunity to meet and find ways to work together to strengthen our community.

PCG: I see, too, that you're on the board of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. What is that?

RZ: I am cheating once again:

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund is a non-profit corporation established by Philadelphia's Mayor and City Council in 1991 to support and enhance the cultural life and vitality of the City of Philadelphia and its residents. The Fund promotes arts and culture as engines of social, educational and economic development in the Philadelphia region. Grants are made from the City budget allocation to the Cultural Fund for operating support of Philadelphia-based arts and cultural organizations.

In short it's the only city money that is given to arts and cultural organization and is an invaluable resource.

PCG: What's next for you?

RZ: Marketing the hell out of Studio Z Design /Studio Z exhibits and InLiquid's 10th anniversary. This will include our 10th installment of Art for the Cash Poor, a special exhibition of Videozoom, the Urban Outfitter's exhibition, our 10th Anniversary InLiquid Celebration & Benefit, as well as other exhibitions celebrating our 10th anniversary. Please see for more information on these and other events coming up.

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