Cheekwood's First Lady
Jane Offenbach, who celebrated her one-year anniversary as Cheekwood’s President and CEO on September 1st, has always been quite the businesswoman. Before moving to Nashville, she worked in the corporate world in Dallas for multiple Fortune 500 companies. After taking a break to spend time with her children, she returned to work with a strong focus in marketing.
“I thought, ‘If I’m going to market something, I want to market anything that can and will better people’s lives,’’’ explains Offenbach.
She took the position as Director of Marketing for the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, a place she had grown to love even before her job search. After the Arboretum, she served as Director of External Affairs for six years at The Nasher Sculpture Center. While working there, she attended an American Association of Museums conference held at The Lily Estate, an area that is very similar to Nashville’s Cheekwood.
“I remember standing on a balcony looking over this beautiful expanse of gardens as evening was beginning to set,” recalls Offenbach. “I thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I want to run an institution like this.”
After that experience, Offenbach would occasionally glance at AAM [American Association of Museums] or APGA’s [American Public Gardens Association] websites just to humor herself. On the day that Cheekwood posted their President and CEO position, she just happened to be on APGA’s website. She jumped at the opportunity to work in her dream job.
“This is my first position as a CEO, and I’m the leader,” remarks Offenbach, almost surprising herself as the words come from her mouth. “I am the person, alongside the board, who is setting the vision and inspiring the staff, board, and the community to join forces in realizing this vision.”
The vision is detailed and lengthy, but ultimately, Offenbach’s goal is to put Cheekwood on a national level. She recognized that it is a unique treasure in Nashville — and the Southeast— but is hoping to make it a national treasure as well. As the President and CEO, she is engaged in every detail of the institution, but on a macro-managing level.
“I am not a curator and I’m not a horticulturist, but I am a business person, so I’m looking at Cheekwood from a business perspective, which is anew,” explains Offenbach. “I really have my hands in everything that is going on so we can run this organization and take it to the next level with the vision that we have.”
First and foremost, Offenbach hopes to capitalize upon the energy from the popular Chihuly exhibit and continue to recreate Cheekwood into a place that offers something for every sort of demographic. After several comprehensive research studies, she has found that the community mainly comes to Cheekwood for the gardens.
“We are really at a watershed moment because of Chihuly,” explains Offenbach. “It was a time when this institution was introduced to so many people that had never been here and re-introduced to so many people who hadn’t been here for a long time. All of a sudden, Cheekwood was in the limelight.”
Also, Nashville wants to learn more about the history of the Cheekwood estate and what it was like to live there. Therefore, they’re renovating a few of the rooms in the mansion to give visitors that perspective.
Finally, since Chihuly was such a hit, they’ll be offering more art exhibits in the gardens, plus more events in the evening. “We had 365,000 people come to Chihuly and 100,000 came in the evenings,” explains Offenbach. “Cheekwood is an enchanting evening destination and we’re hoping to capitalize on that.
Offenbach is a tall, beautiful and vibrant leader, and her love for Cheekwood shines through her every being. When asked what is her favorite part about working there, her answer exemplifies her dedication to achieving her vision.
“Seeing people enjoying being here is my favorite part,” explains Offenbach. “I was walking out to my car the other night, and I saw these little kids running down the hills and you could hear them laughing. My favorite part is to see people being nurtured by the experience of being here.”
For more information on Cheekwood events and exhibits visit cheekwood.org.
Photo by Michael W. Bunch
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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