By Bob Uphues
As 2020 drew to a close, Riverside Arts Center announced a changing of the guard at the top of that nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to exhibiting the work of local and Chicago area artists and fine arts education.
Camille Silverman, who has led RAC as its executive director for nearly four years, made her exit to concentrate on her own art. Her replacement is no stranger to the organization.
Liz Chilsen, who was hired in November 2019 as director of RAC's FlexSpace Gallery, stepped into the role as executive director on Jan. 1.
"I've been in arts administration and the arts for a long time," said Chilsen, who is past executive director for a nonprofit peace and justice organization and a working artist. "One of the things I enjoy is supporting artists and sharing art in the broader community. I'm thrilled to take on the role."
It was no surprise that Chilsen was chosen to lead the nonprofit. Silverman informed RAC of her intention to leave back in October 2019, before RAC hired Chilsen as FlexSpace director. At the same time RAC hired Stephanie Brooks as director of the Freeark Gallery and Outdoor Sculpture Garden.
Silverman formally gave notice of her resignation last June, allowing for a smooth transition of Chilsen into the role.
"When we hired [Chilsen], we were eyeing for her to step into this position," Silverman told the Landmark. "We definitely saw her potential right away as FlexSpace Gallery director."
Silverman joined RAC in April 2017, chosen from a field of 10 candidates and with a track record of success as an arts administrator. As director of the Western Colorado Center for the Arts in Grand Junction, Silverman was credited with growing that organization's profile as a regional arts center, curating thought-provoking exhibitions featuring both regional and national artists.
She came to Riverside Arts Center, 32 E. Quincy St., during a transitional period for the organization, whose first experience hiring an executive director left its future uncertain and its volunteer board members struggling to operate it.
An artist with an MFA in painting from Cranbrook Art Academy, Silverman and former gallery director Claudine Ise began improving the quality of exhibitions at RAC, created the FlexSpace Gallery and partnered with local organizations to broaden its reach in the community.
In late 2019, Silverman was instrumental in the creation of the Ruth and Robert Freeark Endowment Fund, which provides RAC with a financial safety net it lacked in the past.
"It's huge for us," Silverman said. "It gives us some security; it's there for the long term."
With a desire to leave administration for her own art creation, Silverman said the time was right to hand over the reins.
"I wanted RAC to be financially sound and have a stronger backbone of structure, but I also wanted to keep it loose and fun, a place for staff to experiment just as much as our artists and students," Silverman said.
Chilsen enters as executive director after an extraordinary year dominated by a pandemic that forced RAC to be creative in serving students, artists and those who enjoy visiting exhibitions.
One exhibition last year pivoted from a traditional gallery layout to one that could be enjoyed from outside the building, something being repeated this month with a site-specific installation collaboration "Invisible Visible," in the FlexSpace Gallery featuring artist Colleen Plumb and writer Katherine Kassouf Cummings.
The Freeark Gallery, meanwhile, features an exhibition of constructions, installations and paintings by Silverman. Delivering art creatively is something Chilsen expects to continue for the foreseeable future.
"To me, we're going to be dealing with social distancing and mask wearing for the next year, and then we'll slowly expand things," Chilsen said. "We'll find fresh ways to keep art experiences going while we keep each other safe."