Joseph Shubitowski is our Legacy Award honoree for lifetime career achievement. After earning his bachelor’s in fine arts from WMU in 1979, Shubitowski worked on a variety of high-profile cataloging and data management projects, melding together of the fine arts, art history and digital technology during his over 33-year career.
While pursuing his MA in History of Photography at University of Arizona, Shubitowski was a principal cataloger and researcher in the photography archives. He worked with the Smithsonian on rudimentary data rules and processes, and utilized the university’s mainframe computer for this data. After graduation he was chosen by Ansel Adams to be the research assistant for his autobiography. He sifted through Adams’ archives and provided the basis for the chronology and bibliography in the book.
Shubitowski’s work at the Canadian Centre for Architecture established both the cataloging rules and practicum, the interim systems, and the eventual new systems for the permanent museum and archives in Montreal. No off-the-shelf software existed in the mid-1980’s to catalog and describe art collections so Shubitowski helped develop the programs while working as head cataloguer.
From 1990 to 2016 Shubitowski worked for the Getty Research Institute. There he focused on development and support of the technology platforms for the Bibliography of the History of Art.
Other major projects that he led or heavily contributed to include The Getty Provenance Index, which tracks the history of collecting and provenance/ownership of art objects, The Getty Vocabularies, such as the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, which are standards in the field of art and art history.
Get to know Joseph Shubitowski in the interview below:
Tell us a bit about your life. What should we know about you?
After a 34 year career in museum, library, and archive work (Center for Creative Photography, Tucson AZ; Canadian Centre for Architecture, New York and Montreal; J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles), my wife, Jacqueline, and I have retired to the California coastal college town of San Luis Obispo. I read a lot and try and catch up on the many years of missed reading and relaxing. I am active in car clubs and car collecting, as well as driving on the wonderful coastal and mountain roads in this part of California. I volunteer at our local library. Jacqueline and I thoroughly enjoy the wine country – and its people - in which we live.
Let's look back at your college experience. What made Western Michigan University your school of choice?
The art department was the best in the state, and what really solidified WMU.
How did WMU shape your career and contribute to your success?
WMU – and its faculty and my fellow students – gave me confidence in myself. I could be an artist or art historian. It helped me to recognize and take advantage of life and career opportunities and put these to use. I also met Jacqueline at WMU and she definitely helped contribute to my success!
What's your favorite memory from your time at WMU?
I don’t think there is a single favorite memory. I greatly treasure the friendships I made that carry on to present day. I love college athletics and went to countless football, basketball and ice hockey games. The Blizzard of 1978 was memorable, as was trying to find one’s car in the fieldhouse parking lot. The countless hours/days/weeks (some great…..some not so great) in the basement of old Sangren hall, and the satellite studios and gallery spaces in the old neighborhood west of campus (Buckout St., Stearns St., etc.) that are now gone. The Knollwood Tavern.
Tell us about starting your career. How did you land your first job after completing your education?
I went to University of Arizona in late 1979 to pursue an MA in art history. The goal was to be able to teach studio photography and history of photography. Grad school showed me that I wasn’t ready to teach. It was overwhelming. I was also working part-time at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) while pursuing my graduate work in history of photography. This position was the root of my future full-time positions. I learned to handle fine art, cataloging rules and description, exhibition installation, etc. I was chosen to work with Ansel Adams working at the CCP. This position was a springboard to get the Head of Photography Collection Cataloging at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in New York City in 1983.
What are some of your top career highlights?
- Being Ansel Adams research assistant, working at his Carmel residence, printing images with him.
- Cataloging much of Adam’s archive as well as many Edward Weston prints and negatives at the CCP.
- Implementing technology for the museum and library at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) new campus in Montreal.
- Being in the vanguard of art/art history technology development at both the CCA and the Getty.
- Leading collaborative projects with major art/art history institutions in France, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain
- Development of the Getty Research Institute’s book scanning program, and development and implementation of the Getty Research Portal as a discovery/access platform for foundational art history literature from more than 30 international art institutions.
What was your favorite part of your job?
Working with talented dedicated individuals trying to make a difference in the arts and humanities.
What was the most challenging part of your job?
Administrative and bureaucratic workload.
What tips would you give to current students and graduating seniors as they prepare to enter the "real world" and secure work?
I think my biggest tip is to be aware of what is going on in your field and the intersections with other disciplines. Recognize and identify opportunities, seize them, and then grow and/or morph your career based on these. My career took off when I recognized that we could apply new advances in small computers and software to the visual arts and art history.
What do you wish you had known when you were a freshman at WMU?
To cherish my time in college and not be so impatient to go out into the “real world”.
The WMU College of Fine Arts has deemed it "A Time for the Arts." Why do you think now is a time for the arts? What is the role and importance of art in society, politics or public discourse?
It is always time for the arts. For hundreds (and even thousands) of years, the arts and humanities have played an essential critical role in societies development. Artists have reacted to war, tyranny, geopolitical and socio-economic issues and injustices from ancient civilizations to the present day. It is critical that today’s artist continue to express their beliefs through their talents in the visual arts, music, dance or the theater.
What does it mean to you to be recognized as a distinguished alumnus?
I chuckled when I read this question as I thought of Steve Martin in 1979’s “The Jerk” where he ran around saying “I’m somebody now…!!” because he saw his name in print in the phone book. For me, this recognition means that all the decisions – right or wrong – added up to a career that has been totally fulfilling, meaningful, and impactful, while still being rooted to my experiences at WMU.
In honor of Western Michigan University's annual homecoming festivities, the Forever Gold series celebrates and highlights the successes of College of Fine Arts alumni.