Envisioning a community alive with the Arts

JANICE LIPZIN, ArtsQuest Vice President of Visual Arts and Education


Janice Lipzin’s family business was music. Her dreams had always been to be a part of that world as a classical flutist. As dreams often do, Janice’s dreams grew to include journalism and photography and she set about learning photography the old fashioned way, finding her life’s passion in the dark room. Watching the photographs she had taken develop and seeing the magic that the camera had captured changed her life.

As a newly minted graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, a chance invitation to a party led to an unexpected job offer at Sigma Photo. Her work there with 300 photographers was a unique opportunity to experience the impact of photography. After Sigma she worked with the official Statue of Liberty photographer during its historic restoration and with Magnum, the agency of choice for the top professional photographers in the world. Janice’s role as advisor to these inimitable photographic artists gave her a coveted window into their world. She loved her work and it didn’t hurt that while at Sigma, she met her other great love, Paul, an aspiring playwright.

Janice and Paul left their life in the city to raise daughter Natalie at a slower pace in Pennsylvania. In the Lehigh Valley Janice retained photographer clients and taught at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. In 2004, by chance, she saw the ad for a Director of the Banana Factory and was intrigued.. The rest, as they say, is “her-story.”

“I was in the right place at the right time. Within six months after I came to the Banana Factory, Mark Gumz, then President of Olympus America, came to my office to discuss their move to the Lehigh Valley.” The Olympus Digital Imaging Center at the Banana Factory and a pathway to learning digital photography was the result of that fated conversation.

The digital imaging classes at the Banana Factory have drawn many to photography. Frank Smith a real estate management executive credits the Banana Factory program with reigniting his interest in digital photography. “Janice Lipzin was an integral part of getting me back into the digital photography arena. My relationship with Olympus as one of their twelve visionary photographers grew out of connections I made with the company through their commitment to the Banana Factory.” Frank today travels the country speaking on behalf of Olympus and exhibiting his work.

In 2004 Jim Harmon, a glass artist, came into Janice’s office with the idea to launch a glass studio at the Banana Factory. With advice from renowned Quakertown glass and metal artist Steve Tobin, the ArtsQuest Glass Studio opened in 2006, adding a new dimension to regional visual arts.

Roy Gruver, Director of Technology Management at Lehigh University, discovered a passion for glass in ArtsQuest Glass Studio classes. Now an instructor for glass fusing and slumping, Roy states, “As an artist herself, Janice understood what it would take to bring glass artists together to create a vibrant community. In turn everyone in the community can now appreciate this wonderful art form.”

With SteelStacks on the horizon, Janice had more in mind than the major public art pieces on the site and the new Alvin H. Butz Gallery. Janice envisioned a regional photography festival and in 2009, InVision was born. The Lehigh Valley’s own photography festival has garnered wide acclaim and has attracted speakers, exhibitors and attendees from all over the country. At the same time, Janice achieved the impossible by establishing Lehigh Valley Photography Month, with dozens of local art galleries and institutions working together to celebrate and exhibit photography.

Ricardo Viera, Director of Lehigh University Art Galleries and an internationally recognized photography expert, worked with Janice to develop InVision. He states, “Janice is a very passionate person. She is an artist. With ArtsQuest she had the opportunity to use this passion for photography to create a credible Lehigh Valley photography festival and to convince over 40 galleries to display photography. She is an amazing, effective person who truly understands photography.”

The significance of the Arts to health and healing has most recently captured Janice’s imagination and efforts. The Banana Factory includes programs and exhibits for people with disabilities. The exhibits have a profound effect on the students, their families and visitors.

Janice says: “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I had time at home to do some research because there is a rich array of how the arts heal”. Janice’s experience and the experiences of the community resulted in programs that reach people afflicted with illness, as well as their families and caregiver including:

  • An inpatient program in partnership with a New York non-profit and the Livestrong Foundation, offering arts creation opportunities to patients in area hospitals. Programs of this type are now offered in over 50% of US hospitals;
  • An Arts and Healing program that brought together artists/healers from around the world;
  • A partnership with the Pediatric Cancer Society of the Lehigh Valley that includes patient and family programs and led to the Society’s moving their offices to the Banana Factory.

Janice has worked tirelessly to bring diverse, creative artists to the Banana Factory, to offer hundreds of exhibits of local, regional and nationally known artists, to enhance the visual arts education offerings taught by artists, and to partner with public and private schools to offer visual arts programs. Her vision, creativity and courage have left an indelible mark on ArtsQuest, the Banana Factory and the community.

- Ray Canze