Robert B. Menschel (1929-2022): In Memoriam

image: Robert B. Menschel, family, and friends celebrate the dedication of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at Syracuse University in 2001. From left: Ed Bleier, William Safire, Joyce Menschel, Jeffrey Hoone, Robert B. Menschel, Martin Zausner, Dr. Mort Lacher, and Carrie Mae Weems.

ROBERT B. MENSCHEL (1929-2022) — With profound sadness, we share the news of the passing of our good friend and long-time supporter, Robert B. Menschel, on Thursday, May 27, 2022, at the age of 92.

His generosity and support over a lifetime enabled Light Work to flourish as a photography organization that supported emerging artists as it became a leader in the field and a model for artists’ support across the country. Bob was there every step of the way with advice, encouragement, and generosity. He was passionate about photography. His enthusiasm for the work of individual artists was clear as he beamed about their work when he saw it in an exhibition or a publication. In many cases, his support made those projects possible, while his enthusiasm always gave us the encouragement to do our best. There would be no Light Work without Bob Menschel and we will dearly miss and long remember him.

Robert B. Menschel was an investment banker, avid art collector, and philanthropist. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Robert’s partner, Janet Wallach, his son, David, his daughter, Lauren, son-in-law Vance Jacobs, grandsons Adler Menschel Jacobs and Devin Menschel Jacobs, his former wife, Joyce Frank Menschel, his brother and sister-in-law, Richard and Ronay Menschel, and nieces Charis, Sabina and Celene. 

Menschel was an alum of the College of Business Administration at Syracuse University (’51) and an Honorary Trustee (’91) of the institution for more than twenty-three years. He provided significant support and leadership to the University and was a major sustaining supporter of Light Work and the Urban Video Project. 

Menschel joined Goldman Sachs in 1954. He became a partner in 1968 and continued at Goldman Sachs as a senior director until his retirement in 1988. Only Menschel’s passion for philanthropy and advocacy surpassed his brilliance for business and ingenuity. Light Work is honored to have benefited from his generosity and commitment to being a change agent through his Vital Projects Fund and numerous philanthropic initiatives. 

A recipient of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, along with his brother Richard L. Menschel in 2015, Bob believed in Carnegie’s philosophy that wealth carries an inherent responsibility to contribute to the world’s betterment and a more just society. Reflecting on this shared vision in his acceptance speech, Menschel said,

“In the pantheon of American philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie stands out for his generosity in both deeds and spirit. His motto of doing real and permanent good in the world underscores my own commitment to charitable giving. From the time I established my foundation some fifty years ago, my goal has been to support vital projects with primary emphasis on nurturing photography as an art form in museums around the nation, healthcare, and strengthening the justice system, particularly working to end mass incarceration.”

Syracuse University facility management crew install dedication signage to Robert B. Menschel Media Center in 2001. The newly renovated space houses gallery spaces, a digital services lab, residency studios, and collection storage.

Jeffrey Hoone, former executive director of Light Work and the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers, spoke to the significance of Menschel’s steadfast support and championing of Light Work’s mission. 

“Bob Menschel was a friend and supporter of Light Work for more than thirty-five years,” said Hoone. “His love of photography and belief in Light Work’s focused mission to support artists working in photography has touched the lives of countless individuals and artists. We simply would not have been as successful as an organization without Bob’s encouragement, advice, and generosity. We thank him, and an entire generation of artists working in photography have him to thank as well.” 

The news of Menschel’s passing prompts fond memories of his visit to Syracuse in May 2001 for the dedication of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center. Menschel, his brother Richard, and other friends and family traveled to Syracuse to open a newly renovated Light Work facility that included three galleries, state-of-the-art darkroom and digital imaging equipment, residency studios, collection storage, and administrative offices. Menschel’s gift of $3.2 million to support the Center set a new standard for naming gifts at the University as well as set a high standard for design excellence. Menschel persuaded noted architect Richard Meier and celebrated artist and SU alum Sol LeWitt to contribute design elements and artwork to the Center, which  SU alum and architect Mike Wolniack designed. This renovation was a key moment in Light Work’s history that allowed us to offer unique access to photographic works through exhibitions, Contact Sheet periodicals, and support to countless emerging and under-represented artists from around the world.

The support that Robert B. Menschel provided to Light Work and a wide range of other arts organizations is humbling. His philanthropy enriched lives and significantly amplified underrecognized voices. It’s impossible to express our unending gratitude. On behalf of Light Work’s staff and board members, we express profound thanks to Robert B. Menschel and the Menschel family. He leaves behind a legacy of passionate lifelong advocacy, unwavering commitment to transformative change, and an immeasurable generosity that will benefit the world for years to come.

Robert B. Menschel exchanges a mini photo slide viewer with an image of the newly renovated Media Center with dedication event guest, Jane Hodgens.

Light Work Announces 2022 Grants in Photography

Light Work announces the 48th annual Light Work Grants in Photography. The 2022 award recipients are Carlton Daniel, Jr., Lacey McKinney, and Sarah Phyllis Smith. Additionally, judges awarded Honorable Mentions to Bridget Badore, Christine Chin, and Joshua Ives. The Light Work Grants in Photography are part of Light Work’s ongoing effort to provide support and encouragement to Central New York artists working in photography within a fifty-mile radius of Syracuse. Daniel and McKinney hail from Syracuse in Onondaga County and Smith from Utica in Oneida County.

Established in 1975, the Light Work Grants program is one of the longest-running photography fellowships in the country. Each recipient receives a $3,000 stipend and appears in Contact Sheet: The Light Work AnnualA group exhibition of grant recipients’ work will be on view in the Hallway Gallery as part of the opening exhibition for the Fall 2022 season. This year’s judges were Ryan Arthurs (visual artist, curator, and founder of Rivalry Projects) and Tara Johnson  (Visuals Director at Vanity Fair).

Light Work is pleased to announce this year’s grant recipients:

Carlton Daniel, Jr. (Syracuse, Onondaga County)

Carlton Daniel, Jr. imagines Black futurity through his lens as a queer storyteller. Daniel’s multidisciplinary approach engages, interrogates, and is grounded in Afro-diasporic identity, sexuality, and Black love. He navigates storytelling through film, photography, and innovative technologies, using the camera to document the lived experiences of Black Americans. By using the past to inform our present, and the present to inform our future, he envisions worlds that center joy, healing, and care. 

Lacey McKinney (Syracuse, Onondaga County)

Lacey McKinney’s solo and duo exhibitions include the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse), Mana Contemporary (Jersey City, NJ), and The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has shown her work throughout New York State, Virginia, and Washington, notably at NARS Foundation (Brooklyn), Novado Gallery (Jersey City, NJ), Pen & Brush (New York City), Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center (Auburn, NY), and Urban Zen (New York City). Numerous private collections hold her work, which has also appeared in ARTnews, Art Zealous, Cultured Magazine, and Huffington Post. Her residencies include Fremantle Arts Centre (Fremantle, Western Australia), McColl Center for Art + Innovation (Charlotte, NC), and Post Contemporary (Troy, NY). In 2020 the New York Foundation for the Arts awarded her a Keep NYS Creating grant.

Sarah Phyllis Smith (Utica, Oneida County)

Sarah Phyllis Smith is a photographer, educator, and assistant professor of photography at PrattMWP in Utica. Recent notable solo exhibitions include Respite at Whitespace in Atlanta, GA, and Where the Great Lakes Leap to the Sea at The Shed Space in Brooklyn, NY. She has also recently shown her work at Ground Floor Gallery (Nashville), Perspectives Gallery at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Roman Susan Gallery (Chicago), Space 204 at Vanderbilt University (Nashville), Wedge Projects (Chicago), and Whitespace Gallery (Atlanta). Online and print publications featuring her work include Don’t Take Pictures Magazine, From Here On Out, Incandescent Magazine, Lenscratch, Light Leaked, Musée Magazine, Silver Eye Center for Photography, and Vulgaris Magazine. The Iranian literary magazine, Dastan, featured her work on their cover. Smith also curates Study Hall, a pedagogical project and contemporary photography gallery at PrattMWP, where she recently presented at the national conference for the Society for Photographic Education. Smith has been invited to give a workshop at the Tasmeem 2022: Radical Futures conference in Doha Qatar.