Giving Spotlight: Gretchen Tibbits
Since she first stepped on Grounds in the 1980’s Gretchen Tibbits has been fully invested in the Arts at UVA. It was something that came to her naturally, as her mother was a career Arts Administrator who taught her daughter just how important the Arts can be in a university environment. While a student here, Gretchen was on the governing board of the University Union, now known as UPC, where she programmed concerts and speakers and the occasional Fine Arts event. But it is safe to say that her student self could never have imagined the transformation the Arts have undergone on Grounds, and it is even safer to say her work and advocacy, have been an important part of making those changes happen.
Since 2014, Gretchen has served as Chair of the UVA Arts Council, which provides advocacy, advice, and support to departments and artists across the University and the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds. The Arts Council works to strengthen the bonds of interest and participation among The Fralin & Kluge-Ruhe, the Visual and Performing Arts & Architecture Departments, their associated programs, and their alumni and friends; to advocate on their behalf; to advise and assist with communications; and to help raise funds in support of academic programs, facilities, and special events. Their work includes the awarding of annual Arts Council Grants, which play an instrumental role in a number of the residencies, workshops, project, and research-based endeavors proposed across Arts Grounds and the recognition of 5 student Distinguished Artists each year.
This year she will step down from her role as chair, putting the reins in the very capable and talented hands of David Addis (College ‘75, ‘82). The move, she says, will allow her to put more time and energy toward the long-term success of the Arts through chairing and building the Arts Endowment. She continues her work with a vision to expand the Arts footprint at UVA by creating a home for them on the Emmet/Ivy corridor.
Anyone who knows Gretchen Tibbits knows that when she sets her mind and heart on a vision, she is hard to stop. Today she is a recognized thought leader & media investment banker, a recent move after a 25+ year successful career as a media brand builder. Her resume is rich with experience at companies including LittleThings, Maxim, Hearts, ESPN, WorkingWomanNetwork, and Inc.
Gretchen is a passionate supporter of UVA Arts’ goal to see the Arts become even more integrated into the student, faculty, and staff life, while continuing to expand outreach into the greater local community. “I am continually amazed to see the ways in which the Arts are able to bring the University together,” she said. “I recently watched an episode of the ‘Arts on the Hill’ series that featured two music ensembles including 8-10 students, and more than half of them were in the Engineering School. I think there was only one student involved who was a music major. These are students who are participating in the Arts for the love of it. We are not a conservatory, yet our students, faculty, and community continually come together to build and grow significant and diverse Arts offerings. This supports UVA’s well-earned reputation as a place that brings people from a great diversity of experiences and backgrounds together to build a remarkable Arts community. Our next challenge is to provide the support needed to amplify the efforts of this community and further the positive impact on & off Grounds.”
The positive influence of the Arts at UVA extends beyond the Grounds, Tibbits points out. “When you look at the external facing programming and nationwide press coverage that has come out of UVA for the past few years,” she said, “the positive press has largely come from either a national championship in our athletics program, or the Arts. As examples, Tibbits cited the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and an exhibit featuring the iconic American modernist Jacob Lawrence at The Fralin, “I remember having a conversation with Beth Turner (Professor of Modern Art and the former Vice Provost for the Arts at UVA) some ten years ago about Jacob Lawrence. Turner said that one of her goals was to see if she could get some of Lawrence’s series to tour, and in the process bring more attention to the search for some of his missing pieces. This fall there was a lead story in the New York Times about the discovery of one of the missing panels – this came out of the Arts leadership at UVA.”
Tibbits is continuing her long history of putting her money where her heart is when it comes to UVA Arts, and making an impact for generations to come, by making a bequest that she intends to go toward the proposed new museum facility. “UVA has always been a part of my estate planning,” she said, “and now the goal is to be an example and a leadership gift to move the Arts forward.” One of the ways she is doing this is by building a collection of works by leading Australian Aboriginal artists. She has recently acquired a Sharon Adamson painting which hangs in her home in Harlem, New York alongside others by Samantha Hobson and Judy Watson. All of these works, she said, will ultimately reside at Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection at UVA.
The excitement and growing success around UVA Arts today is hardly an accident, Tibbits said. “It has come largely from the focus of a smaller group that has helped make the Arts, which were once seen as secondary or even tertiary, an integral part of this institution. Even if we stopped here, it would be significant, but we are here at this incredible time with an opportunity to work with Vice Provost for the Arts, Jody Kielbasa, and his team to push just a little bit more. When we succeed with the efforts underway today, the impact on the Arts on the UVA experience will go from significant to transformative.”