If you’ve ever been out to Purdue University Northwest’s Westville campus, you’ve probably seen the massive collection of beautiful art and sculptures that decorate the school’s open lawns. PNW Westville didn’t always have such an extensive and gorgeous collection, which in many ways has become one of the university’s most recognizable features. The collection is largely the result of efforts to give students a well-rounded education by its’ curator, Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Art Collections and Special Programs Judy Jacobi.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she lived in the neighborhood of Flatbush until the age of seven. Then, Jacobi and her family lived on Long Island until she was 18 when she went to Chatham University in Pittsburgh to study art history. Inspired by her family, her love of art started at a young age.
“My grandmother, starting from the time I was four, lived in Greenwich Village. She was a Greenwich Village Bohemian. Every single one of my cousins from that side of my family, whether she was their aunt or grandmother, had the same experience I did. We’re all art lovers. I credit her with encouraging my interest in art, my parents also,” said Jacobi.
Deciding that art history didn’t provide the kind of career she wanted, Jacobi pursued a degree in anthropology as well. She studied at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, working many jobs ranging from government work and women’s healthcare, to working in family planning and population studies. There, she met her husband Mark, a pediatrician who was a fellow at the children’s hospital across the street from where she worked. Mark just happened to be from La Porte, which is how she found herself in Northwest Indiana.
“He said, ‘How would you like to move to a little town called La Porte, Indiana?’ I said, ‘Well, before I tell you my answer, can I see a map?’ He said ‘Why? Don’t you know where La Porte is?’ I said ‘Mark, I don’t even know where Indiana is!’”
Jacobi has since held jobs in careers ranging from gerontology, family planning, mental health and advertising, co-founding the first full-service ad and communications agency in the county. Here, she developed the skills she uses to curate the art she so dearly loves at PNW.
“I developed an amazingly useful set of skills - sales, which is unbelievably critical and difficult. I built upon my creative background, reaching even as far back as when my interest in art started. I enjoyed that experience for 10 years, then I was hired as the first director of marketing and campus relations at Purdue North Central.”
After Purdue North Central’s unification with Purdue Calumet, Jacobi became the sole person in charge of curating the art on both the Westville and Hammond campuses. She’s in charge for one very important reason: She believes that a good knowledge of art creates students who are more prepared for the world.
“I say that we can’t say we graduate ‘world ready’ students if they don’t know about art!" Jacobi said. "‘World ready’ means well-rounded. ‘World ready’ means you know something about technologies, sciences, math, philosophy, languages and art - one of the most splendid parts of humanity, human ideas and the past and the future.”
Jacobi largely leases or rents parts of PNW’s vast collection, which is comprised of sculptures, paintings and even a piece of the World Trade Center.
While Jacobi has held many positions, her position as curator to PNW’s art collection holds a special appeal to her.
“Number one, I love the creative arts, all of the arts, and I know through my experiences now that appealing to people through the visual arts is a great way to make people happy.”
Judy doesn’t just curate the art for the students, but for her coworkers, the staff and visitors at PNW.
“We have a large, coherent and beautiful collection of fine arts, and it’s amazing what it does for everyone’s psyche,” Jacobi mentioned with a laugh. “It elevates how people feel about where they are and where they work. It’s a source of pride and a wonderful way to start a conversation, and break the ice. After a while people wonder, ‘How did we live without it?’”
Jacobi, who has lived in Michigan City with her husband for the last forty years, is also vice president of the board of directors of the Michigan City Chamber Music Festival, is on the advisory board for the Purdue Northwest Sinai Forum and works with Michigan City’s Public Art Committee. All of these positions allow her to work with art and make a difference in Northwest Indiana.
Jacobi’s love of art has driven her career for the last forty years, and it shows in her demeanor and the physical fruits of her labor across PNW’s two campuses. In her words, the job is a unifying factor of community for her.
“In all of my years in community development, I’ve been on many community boards in so many capacities, and I have found that people really disagree about everything. But one thing that people seem to always agree on is ‘I want my community to look better. I want the environment to look nicer.’ Well, art is a fabulous answer to that. Everyone knows art is subjective, something one person might not like, another person may, but it gets the conversation going and always makes the environment look better.”