Susan Sollins, e.p. of arts documentary series, dies

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Susan Sollins, executive producer of the biennial public TV series Art in the Twenty-First Century, died Oct. 13. Her age and the cause of death were not disclosed.

Susan Sollins


In 1997, Sollins founded ART21, a nonprofit organization devoted to chronicling contemporary art and artists. In 2001, it launched Art in the Twenty-First Century, a series of short films focusing on contemporary artists both established and lesser-known. The seventh season debuts Friday.

Sollins also directed William Kentridge: Anything is Possible, a feature-length film that debuted on PBS in 2010. Both that film and the series won Peabody Awards.

“Susan was a visionary creative force and tireless advocate for contemporary art and artists,” ART21 said in a statement on its website. “Resolute in her belief in the transformative power of art, Susan devoted her life to educating broad audiences about artists’ ideas, lives, and creative processes. An artist and activist in her own right, she inspired countless people of all ages and backgrounds by capturing in films her unique rapport with artists.

“We at ART21 are honored to have had the privilege to work with such an extraordinary, kind, and courageous leader and mentor, whose impeccable standards and passionate vision were a daily inspiration. We will miss her profoundly as we carry on and honor her legacy.”

“Susan had a profound belief in the power of contemporary visual artists and visual art, and she brought that passion to life on public television through seven seasons of ART21,” said PBS President Paula Kerger. “. . . Susan will be sorely missed by her colleagues in public television for her outstanding contribution to our system’s work to keep the arts alive and accessible for all Americans.”

“What I admired most about Susan was her absolute dedication to the purity of art — the work itself and the artist were always the central elements in her programs,” said Donald Thoms, PBS’s v.p. for general audience programming. “. . . Artists everywhere respected her for that. She could pick up the phone and artists would always want to participate in her projects because they knew they could trust the way she would present them and their work.”

Before starting ART21, Sollins was visual arts consultant for City Arts, a magazine show produced by New York’s WNET. Prior to her work in public TV, she was executive director of Independent Curators International, a nonprofit organization that stages traveling exhibitions of contemporary art. She co-founded ICI in 1975.

Sollins also worked early in her career for the Smithsonian Institution as curator of education for its American Art Museum and as curator of its Discovery Gallery. She was a panelist for several arts organizations and president of a foundation devoted to the works of her late husband, avant-garde musician Earle Brown.

“Susan conveyed her lifelong passion for the visual arts to all those who knew her, so that all of us from closest family to dearest friends and a constantly growing circle of colleagues and collaborators shared in the joys and discoveries of her ever-curious and inquiring eye for beauty, brilliance, and meaning in art,” her family said in an obituary.

The family will honor and celebrate Sollins at a memorial gathering yet to be scheduled. They welcome contributions to ART21, 133 W. 25th St. #3E, NY, NY 10001.

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