Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership Profiles Janice Sands

Janice Sands

As the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership celebrates its 10th anniversary, we ask notable neighborhood figures ten questions about the area. In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we’re pleased to introduce Janice Sands. She serves as the Executive Director of Pen + Brush, the only nonprofit organization that showcases the work of women in the literary and visual arts to a broader audience and marketplace.

Sands is a graduate of the UCLA School of Public Affairs with nearly four decades of arts administration and management experience that includes serving as Executive Director of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and as a strategic planning consultant for the Actors Fund of America.

1. Describe your role as Executive Director at Pen + Brush.
First, I’ll say it has evolved over the 18 years I’ve been with the organization. One constant, though, is managing our former and current facilities because they are so integral to our activities–and both are buildings over 110 years old. Another constant is gauging whether the organization’s program is doing what it’s supposed to do and effecting change for the population served. I found that the organization’s former home [of nearly 90 years] was consuming a large share of its resources without really advancing its mission and I saw my job as strategizing how to correct that. It ended up being a 10-year plan; carrying it out through changing boards, members and even staff was a great challenge. I think an executive director’s job description is to keep focus on the big picture while monitoring program, finances, constituent demographics, staffing, along with necessary but mundane activities and the “mission creep” that can easily set in.

2. Briefly define the organization’s platform.
Our program provides a platform for the work of emerging women writers and visual artists to reach curators, collectors, publishers, editors, agents, gallery owners—those who have influence–with the objective of getting that work into the marketplace at valuations based on merit, without it being discounted because of the gender of the maker. We address persistent stereotypes and misconceptions that disadvantage women artists and writers in ways that devalue the worth of their work. We feel strongly more can be done to address the factors that are persistently having a negative effect on economic equity in the visual and literary arts and developed this new model after two years of speaking with influencers in the arts marketplace.

3. What inspired you to join Pen + Brush nearly 20 years ago?
A somewhat mysterious ad in The New York Times classifieds, an opportunity to be part of a venerable organization and step into a position [as the organization’s first executive director], where as an individual, I could have a meaningful impact. It was thrilling to me to know that women I admired, Eleanor Roosevelt, Pearl Buck, Malvina Hoffman, Jessie Tarbox Beals, Clara Sipprell, Lida Rose McCabe, and Ida Tarbell, had been a part of Pen + Brush. They honored the efforts of those who were excluded from the associations and societies of their professions because of their gender, to found their own organization–before women had the right to vote. That the organization has operated for 122 years focused on women in the arts and letters is an incredible achievement and if I can shepherd Pen + Brush into its next incarnation, revitalized and relevant, I’ll be content with my contribution to gender equity.

4.  What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Creating an environment for acceptance of the benefits of monetizing Pen + Brush’s Greenwich Village townhouse, using a portion of the proceeds from its sale to purchase and renovate new quarters here in the Flatiron District that are “purpose built” to provide a state-of-art facility for Pen + Brush’s activities–and establishing an investment portfolio with the balance to give the organization some financial stability.

5.  What’s the best professional advice you offer to women in the arts?
To understand where you are in the world of your profession–be realistic and be professional in all you do. Understand that the arts are a business and while talent is essential, talent alone will not be enough. Educate yourself about finances and how the environment of your art functions.

6. Pen + Brush recently relocated to 29 East 22nd Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South. What do you love about being in the Flatiron area and why?
The staff and I, and our board, LOVE the Flatiron area. The visibility we have here is phenomenal.  Access by subway, bus, walking, even driving and having a parking lot across the street, cannot be beat. Our foot traffic is 20 times what it was in our former location. Restaurant options are seemingly endless and although I don’t have time to take advantage of it, shopping is fabulous.  We’ve found the neighboring business very generous and accommodating. Eataly is helping us by distributing our calendar cards, and we are delighted to distribute theirs. We are huge fans of Mad. Sq. Art and Madison Square Park Conservancy and last, but surely not least, the Flatiron Building–right at the end of our block. We can see it if we go out on our sidewalk.That would be pretty cool for anyone, but I think it’s especially great for us as an arts organization that one of the most photographed buildings, if not the most photographed, is our neighbor.

7. What’s your favorite destination or “must-see” in the District? Tell us why you like it.
The Flatiron Building. An icon. One of the things in life that, while photographed and painted and printed beautifully, still surprises in person. A second place might be the Sohmer Piano Building with its gorgeous gold dome or the MetLife, once the tallest building in the world. Getting to know a couple of 19th and early 20th century buildings piqued my interest in these survivors.

8. Name your favorite architectural element or building in Flatiron and why it is your favorite.
The prow of the Flatiron Building. Nothing like it and it creates a great optical illusion that the building is pencil thin.

9. What is your favorite eatery in the District and what do you order there?  
There are so many great places to eat it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite, but I am a big fan of Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop on Fifth Avenue at 22nd Street. Another holdover from another era. And you can still get a chocolate egg cream.

10. Choose three words that best represent the Flatiron District.
Destination. Architectural. Vibrant.