Zuckerman Museum of Art director Justin Rabideau, who quickly brought the museum to national prominence, died suddenly on Wednesday.
Rabideau was a beloved member of Atlanta’s arts community, and his loss is also felt deeply at Kennesaw State University, where he worked closely with students, faculty, staff and artists as museum director of KSU’s Bernard A. Zuckerman Museum of Art.
After getting his degrees, he worked as a collections assistant and preparator at Syracuse, New York’s Everson Museum of Art from 2007 to 2009 and as an exhibit technician at West Palm Beach’s Flagler Museum from 2009 to 2011. As always, education remained of primary importance to Rabideau, and he also worked during those times as an adjunct professor at Syracuse’s Cazenovia College and Palm Beach State College.
He moved to the Atlanta area in 2011 and became the director of the Zuckerman Museum of Art in 2012 while the new museum was still under construction. During his time at Zuckerman, Justin oversaw 45 exhibitions, including student and faculty exhibitions as well as shows by national artists. This past spring, the museum was awarded the 2018 Southeastern Museum Excellence in Exhibitions Competition, Gold, for Tomashi Jackson: Interstate Love Song. Rabideau was consistently devoted to showing the work of Atlanta artists alongside artists and artistic movements happening on a national and global level.
In a March 2018 interview, arts website Voyage Atlanta asked Rabideau, “What is success for you?”
“I think about the individuals whose lives have been impacted by the experiences they’ve had at the museum,” he answered. “That to me is real success. . . . We’ve had student workers that have gone on to work at places like the High, MOCA GA, MODA, Fernbank and the Center for Puppetry Arts. . . . Helping others achieve their goals in life is truly a definition of success in my book.”
The position was not without its ups and downs. The museum’s opening was clouded by controversy when then KSU president Daniel Papp removed a potentially controversial work, Walk in the Valley, that referenced lynching. The exhibition, Art AIDS America, which showed work dealing frankly with issues of sexuality and HIV, was the source of some controversy when a series of articles, the second by State Representatives Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) and Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), and State Senator Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), criticized the institution for showing such “sickening” work.
Throughout it all, Rabideau remained true to his vision and the artistic and educational mission of the museum, acting as a clear and articulate spokesman for the institution’s goals and intentions. “We believe that reinvigorating the dialogue about HIV/AIDS will help to educate our communities that we serve and help combat the spread of this disease,” he told Burnaway about the Art AIDS America controversy. ArtsATL critic Matthew Terrell called that show “one of the most engaging exhibitions to come to metro Atlanta in years,” and ArtsATL subsequently selected the Zuckerman Museum of Art as the inaugural recipient of our Luminary Award for Social Discourse in 2017 for its role in sparking important community dialogues.
As an artist, Rabideau showed his work in printmaking and sculpture in Atlanta, throughout the southeast and beyond, collaborating with a long list of prominent Atlanta artists on everything from installation to dance performance. His work in Atlanta included solo and group shows at Marcia Wood, Mammal Gallery, Kibbee Gallery, Gallery 112, Barbara Archer Gallery, MINT, The Goat Farm Arts Center, WonderRoot, W Hotel, Dashboard Co-op and more.
The last update to Rabideau’s Facebook page on October 15 was a famous and oft-repeated quote in verse by Georgia folk artist Howard Finster. In some ways, the quote could also be used now to describe not just Rabideau’s own assemblages and sculptures, but his aspirations to create a sense of engagement and unity through his various practices, as an educator, as a curator and as an artist: “I took the pieces you threw away and put them together by night and day. Washed by rain, dried by sun, a million pieces all in one.”