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