Westchester's Most Influential Women: Janet Langsam

the culture vulture
Janet Langsam

Photo by Stefan Radtke

If you want to be involved with the arts in Westchester County, you either know Janet Langsam or are desperate to know her. Janet Langsam is the CEO of ArtsWestchester and, as such, is one of the biggest supporters—financially and promotionally—of the arts and Westchester County.

For 20 years, Langsam has been at the forefront, the person who fights for funding, who secures performance venues and exhibition space for local artists, and who markets and champions the county’s arts scene to the rest of the world to show that Westchester is not just a sleepy, culturally-bereft bedroom community of the Big Apple.

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“We’ve worked hard to show the community that we have it all right here, that it’s lively and that there is no need to go to New York City for your arts,” says Langsam. She has expanded ArtsWestchester, formerly known as the Westchester Arts Council, from an agency with just a $1 million annual budget to one with a $3.6 million budget today. She and her staff of 20 distribute grant money from the public and private sectors to artists and arts organizations of all sorts—essentially holding the purse strings of the county’s arts community.

“Previously, a lot of the development of the arts in Westchester came about not by design but out of opportunity,” she says. “I think that in the past twenty years what the arts community has tried to do is to enhance the arts scene more by design and less by opportunity.”

One of her biggest—and most visible—accomplishments was, in 1998, the purchase and renovation of a historic bank building in downtown White Plains. The building was rechristened as the Arts Exchange, and serves as ArtsWestchester’s headquarters as well as artist studios and a gallery, with all operating costs covered by rent from the artists and other tenants in the building. Now, it serves as a physical reminder that the arts community is alive and well in the heart of Westchester. Says Langsam, “It was unthinkable that there was no major arts building in downtown White Plains.”

Langsam knows about the role of the arts in an area’s life and reputation. A fine arts painter who became New York City’s first deputy commissioner of cultural affairs under Mayor Abraham Beame, she also helped establish the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs as a separate and distinct city agency and served in the Lindsay and Koch administrations. Prior to coming to Westchester, she served as president and CEO of the Boston Center for the Arts. She is also a founder of the Queens Museum of Art, and a recipient of the Americans for the Arts Michael Newton Award.


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