Pub­li­cist Jen­nifer Vil­lela


Most arts or­ga­ni­za­tions say they want to col­lab­o­rate with other es­tab­lish­ments, but good in­ten­tions can prove dif­fi­cult to re­al­ize. None­the­less, a fine ex­am­ple of in­teror­ga­ni­za­tional part­ner­ship came to fruition last sum­mer in Project In­di­gene, a mar­ket­ing-driven en­ter­prise in which Jen­nifer Vil­lela (through her con­sult­ing firm V Me­dia) played an es­sen­tial role.

Vil­lela had been help­ing pro­mote the Na­tive Trea­sures arts fes­ti­val, an un­der­tak­ing of the Mu­seum of In­dian Arts and Cul­ture. She ex­plained that Della War­rior, the mu­seum’s head, had ex­pressed the wish to “get all the lead­ers and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tors of the Na­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions to­gether and see how we can col­lab­o­rate. So I started that for her.” The in­cen­tive har­nessed ac­tiv­i­ties by a host of in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions: MIAC and Na­tive Trea­sures, the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts and its Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Na­tive Art, the Wheel­wright Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian, the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art, the School for Ad­vanced Re­search, the Ralph T. Coe Cen­ter for the Arts, and the South­west­ern As­so­ci­a­tion for In­dian Arts (which runs Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket). While she stressed that many pro­fes­sion­als were es­sen­tial to re­al­iz­ing Project In­di­gene, Vil­lela took pride in help­ing make the ne­c­es­sary stars align.

“Na­tive Amer­i­can arts and cul­ture is this huge world,” she said, “and so to be able to help peo­ple see the spec­trum of what peo­ple are cre­at­ing, and … of what Na­tive Amer­i­can artists are be­ing in­spired by, and the artists that still work in tra­di­tional [tech­niques], and the ones that are us­ing their art for ac­tivism — be­ing able to help find those con­nect­ing fac­tors and get that out to the pub­lic is re­ally sat­is­fy­ing.” In the end, the in­cen­tive re­ceived much at­ten­tion in New Mex­ico and be­yond, ex­tend­ing to cov­er­age in a Wall Street Jour­nal ar­ti­cle, and the par­tic­i­pa­tion of so many or­ga­ni­za­tions made the en­ter­prise more for­mi­da­ble than would have been pos­si­ble through in­di­vid­ual ef­forts.

Vil­lela’s fas­ci­na­tion with dif­fer­ent cul­tures was in­evitable. A na­tive of Phoenix, she is the daugh­ter of a Scot­tish mother and a first-gen­er­a­tion Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can fa­ther. She grew up in Ja­pan, in Alam­ogordo, and in Eng­land; went to col­lege at the Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico; worked in Wash­ing­ton (in ad­ver­tis­ing graph­ics pro­duc­tion for The Wash­ing­ton

Post); and landed in Santa Fe in 2000 as as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing at the Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe Mu­seum. Since then, she has pro­vided ex­per­tise in pub­lic re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing to many of the state’s mu­se­ums and gal­leries as well as other non­prof­its and groups work­ing in cul­ture, tourism, and health care. “I’m the dis­sem­i­na­tor,” she said. “I get this great learn­ing op­por­tu­nity. I gather the in­for­ma­tion, and then I help feed that to jour­nal­ists to see if we can get some at­ten­tion for who­ever the client is. I re­ally like cap­tur­ing the story — or the im­por­tant el­e­ments of it — and get­ting jour­nal­ists in­volved.”

Her po­si­tion as an out­side con­sul­tant af­fords a valu­able per­spec­tive that peo­ple work­ing within an or­ga­ni­za­tion may not see as read­ily. “You have to make sure that you’re throw­ing a wide net,” she said, “find­ing an ap­peal that is go­ing to bring in as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. In a lot of mu­se­ums, you have cu­ra­tors who are do­ing things that are re­ally in­cred­i­ble, but it might be lit­tle hard to un­der­stand. So then my job is to say, ‘If we couch it in th­ese terms, or break it down a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, it may be more ac­ces­si­ble.’ ” Her mis­sion, she feels, is “to find the most im­por­tant el­e­ments, to dis­till it down — not to dumb it down at all. It’s re­ally to be an in­ter­preter to get that mes­sage out.”

Work­ing from a home of­fice helps her bal­ance her per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. She met her hus­band of 12 years, Khris­taan Vil­lela, when they were both vol­un­teer mem­bers on the board of In­ter­mezzo, a group for young pro­fes­sion­als at­tached to the Santa Fe Opera. He is now the di­rec­tor of the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art (for which she does not pro­vide paid con­sult­ing) and they have a nineyear-old son. She re­cently be­gan host­ing the Satur­day in­ter­view show “Cof­fee and Cul­ture” on KTRC ra­dio. She finds op­por­tu­ni­ties to of­fer in-kind ser­vices — for ex­am­ple, as chair of the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Foun­da­tion’s Busi­ness Coun­cil Com­mit­tee, which, as she put it, tries “to build mem­ber­ship of busi­ness mem­bers who want to sup­port the cre­ative econ­omy.”

In the midst of it all, she still feels a rush when a ma­jor ar­ti­cle she has shep­herded ap­pears in print or when a show she has pub­li­cized greets its first vis­i­tors. “When an ex­hi­bi­tion opens and you see the pub­lic and how much they en­joy what they are see­ing, and you know that you helped get them to that ex­hi­bi­tion or to see the artist talk about their work — those are re­ally spe­cial things.” — James M. Keller

“I get this great learn­ing op­por­tu­nity. I gather the in­for­ma­tion, and then I help feed that to jour­nal­ists to see if we can get some at­ten­tion for who­ever the client is. I re­ally like cap­tur­ing the story and get­ting jour­nal­ists in­volved.”

photo Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mex­i­can

Jen­nifer Vil­lela in­side the Gi­rard Wing of the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art,

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