Retiring University Galleries Director Has No Plans To Hang Up His Creative Hat

After 31 years guiding the University Galleries, the director is heading into retirement.

Barry Blinderman made the leap from the New York art scene to Illinois State University in the 80s, and in the years that followed, he made bold moves as a curator and helped to create a cultural bridge between the University and the Bloomington-Normal community. 

From skyscraper canyons to open prairie, Blinderman left the ultimate urban landscape in New York City to work under the forever sky of central Illinois, where his creative vision changed the artistic landscape of his new home.

“Every afternoon I thank my lucky stars. It’s the best place to work.”

In 1987, Blinderman was the director of a private gallery in New York City when the desire for more—a chance to publish and to teach—brought him to Illinois State as director of the University Galleries. And while he was excited for the new opportunity, the change was, shall we say, a bit of a shock to his system. 

“I was flabbergasted,” Blinderman admitted with a wince. “Just landing in a little puddle jumper in Peoria and driving past frozen soybean fields and thinking, ‘Oh, no! What have I done?’ Just the flatness and the desolation of winter definitely put a damper on my enthusiasm.”

Blinderman kept the lease on his New York apartment for a year before embracing his new surroundings.

“What was amazing was the freedom and support I got from the School of Art, from the College of Fine Arts, from the University. I felt like we were able to accomplish whatever we wanted.”

Blinderman and his team were able to make great strides through the application of grants.

“We got about six grants in a row, and this jumpstarted our publications program. And then once we had publications we could sell them and that raised money for exhibitions. And then the exhibitions began to travel to other museums and galleries, which raised more money. I think I had a great business model going.”

With Blinderman at the helm, the University Galleries was recognized as a space that was open to featuring national artists, such as David Wojnarowicz and his “Tongues of Flame” exhibition, plus a place where Illinois State University students could have their work exhibited for the first time.

In 2014, Blinderman had a strong voice in the planning and construction of University Galleries’ new location in Uptown Normal, just off the roundabout. The Galleries become a cultural bridge between ISU and the community.

“It’s been a wonderful development. The space is delightful. We have 20-foot ceilings and state of the art LED lighting. When people come here, I get a sense that they get a feel for the importance of what is being shown. I wanted the gallery to have an industrial look in all shades of grey that would allow the artworks to shine. It turned out to be incredible! Our attendance has gone up. I can’t tell you how pleasant it is to work here. Every afternoon I thank my lucky stars. It’s the best place to work.”

Now his retirement is looming at the end of June.

“I really wanted to leave at the top of my game,” Blinderman explained. Although he battled mixed feelings about his exit, he’s now looking forward to some new creative freedom as a musician.

“I have a lot of songs that I’ve written through the years that I’ve not recorded yet, and given the time and energy, I’ll have the inspiration to write new material.”

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