‘A good run’: Terry Jenoure, longtime director of the Augusta Savage Gallery, retires

  • Terry Jenoure has just retired as the director of the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst. She first began working there as a UMass graduate student in 1990. The gallery has long been a forum for a variety of multicultural art, including work by artists from other countries. PHOTO by MICHAEL O’BANNON

  • Terry Jenoure, with violin, and Linda McInerney of Eggtooth Productions in Greenfield, prep for a performance at the Full Disclosure Festival in Turners Falls in 2018. Jenoure, a musician, visual artist, and writer, has just retired as the longtime director of the Augusta Savage Galley at UMass Amherst.  FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Alexi Cota, manager of the Augusta Savage Gallery, talks about the exhibit “Impact on Innocence: Mass Incarceration” last year. The gallery has long offered work from a variety of cultures, aiming to shine a light on issues such as race, ethnicity, class, and cultural identity.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • One of Terry Jenoure’s handmade dolls, which was part of a previous exhibit of her work at Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2020

When Terry Jenoure began working at the Augusta Savage Gallery as a graduate student in 1990, she had no inkling that she had just begun what would become a three-decade tenure at the University of Massachusetts Amherst art gallery.

Now, 30 years later, Jenoure has just retired as director of Augusta Savage, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Originally founded by staff with the university’s Afro-American Studies Department as a forum for African American art, the gallery during Jenoure’s time became part of the UMass Fine Arts Center (FAC) and expanded to embrace a wide range of multicultural art.

That’s not a surprise, given Jenoure’s own varied background: as a jazz violinist, singer and composer; a fabric artist; a writer and poet; and a former educator who showed teachers how to bring art and creativity into their classrooms. And as someone with family roots from Jamaica, Puerto Rico and New York City, Jenoure says she’s long been an advocate for artists from underrepresented communities — and for all artists who advocate for people from those communities.

“I think we’ve really tried to be a forum for artists who come from different and unconventional backgrounds,” she said during a recent phone call from her home in Northfield. “I remember talking with (former FAC Director) Fred Tillis in the early 1990s, and he had really embraced the idea of multiculturalism in the arts, with things like the Bright Moments (concert) series and New WORLD Theater … it really made sense for our gallery to be a part of that.”

Jenoure began planning for her retirement about a year ago, before the pandemic began, thinking 30 years in the gallery “had been a good run” and that she wouldn’t mind having some more time to devote to her own art (she’s currently working on a musical project that will be screened on Amherst Media at the end of September).

Retirement “feels pretty good,” Jenoure added with a laugh; her last day was Aug. 25. “I think we’ve got some really good programming for the coming year, and I feel like I still have so much energy for some of my own work.”

She said she stayed at the gallery as long as she did in large part “because I have a lot of energy for things I’m really passionate about, and I was really passionate about what we did there.”

Augusta Savage Gallery, named for the African American sculptor and arts educator who rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance, has long been a venue for a variety of visual artists as well as performances and presentations by musicians, dancers, writers and others — established and emerging artists alike.

As she said in statement about her retirement, Jenoure always saw the gallery as a space “where ‘mainstream’ sits along the banks and watches the resistant tributaries make their way into the steady flow and bring underrepresented imaginations and inventions center-stage.”

In 2001, Jenoure also founded a program run through the gallery, Arts International Residency, that has sent about 20 U.S. artists to Ecuador, Colombia, South Africa, Germany, Senegal, Israel, Mexico and other countries to let them observe different cultures and bring some of those elements into their own work. Artists would then typically display their new artwork in an exhibit at Augusta Savage.

Jenoure earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate in education at UMass and later taught for almost 20 years at Lesley University in Boston, in an education program that sent her traveling around the country and overseas to hold workshops for K-12 teachers on incorporating art in their classrooms. She also taught at UMass and worked as a consultant in different countries, showing social workers how to use the arts for conflict resolution.

Though she initially studied music and visual art when she was younger — “My father would say to me, ‘I always thought you’d be a visual artist, because I was always painting and drawing,’” she said — Jenoure took up something new starting around 1990: fabric art. She’s since displayed her handmade dolls and other creations in a number of galleries, and she’s also made them part of some musical and theatrical performances.

For the 2020-21 season at the Augusta Savage Gallery, she’s fashioned what’s called the “Healing Bodies” series of exhibits and performances, featuring work by new artists and some who previously worked with the galley. The idea, Jenoure says, was to use art to look at the different ways one can consider health and wellness — an issue that’s taken on additional meaning with the pandemic, she notes, even though the programming was arranged before COVID-19 came on the scene.

The galley has also just opened a virtual exhibit, “Breathing While Black,” featuring about 100 pieces of visual art, from 17 different countries, that were created in response to the killing of Black people in the U.S. earlier this year.

Jenoure says her longtime gallery manager, Alexia Cota, will oversee Augusta Savage this year while the university looks for an interim director and conducts a search for a longer-term replacement.

In the meantime, pandemic or not, she says she’ll continue with her own art. She’s had some preliminary conversations with Linda McInerney, of Eggtooth Productions in Greenfield, about putting together an opera. “I think we need the arts more than ever now,” she said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.