“Look at those buttons!” Marilyn says, reaching for my sweater. Or, “Look at the way that seam is stitched.” She likes fabric, my boss. She talks about sample sales, quilts in progress, color and texture and sheen. She won’t be my boss much longer, though. After over eleven years as ICA’s Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Marilyn is leaving in a few days.
Marilyn Pollick grew up in Philadelphia in a neighborhood of German and Jewish immigrants who shared one another’s holidays. She put herself through Wharton, worked for the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Franklin Institute, and served on the boards of many Philadelphia institutions. For a while she lived in Alaska, where if you’re not careful, she says, the ice fog can cut your throat. As a consultant, she has traveled the country. At ICA, where she has worked since 2000, she has been an enthusiastic and tireless advocate for the museum, for the arts, and for Penn. Also, she’s a skillful fisherman.
At ICA, Marilyn has overseen a fundraising campaign that has nearly reached its $17 million goal. The museum now has endowments to support our director’s position, exhibition publications, and the guest curator program that gave us, most recently, the wonderful exhibition Set Pieces, curated by artist Virgil Marti from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In addition to the big things, she is always quick to attend to the little things: writing name tags, considering menus, arranging flowers. In a crowded car stuck in traffic on the way home from an event, she will be the one making jokes to keep spirits up. She always finds the time to talk to an alumni stopping by the museum, or a young person considering applying to Penn. She listens to their stories. As my colleague Christy says, “That is the true gift of a development officer.”
Marilyn isn’t one for talking about her past, but if you listen to the hints and allusions, the occasional bright detail (the grandmother’s cameo, the stapler thrown through the air, the warrior yoga), you start to understand how many lives she has lived, and how deeply Philadelphia—and Penn—are part of her.
There is something birdlike about Marilyn’s features, her fine feathery hair, and the way she tilts her head. When I heard she was leaving ICA, it seemed to make sense: it was time for her to shake out those folded wings.
On one of the most beautiful days of June, the ICA staff had a picnic on the Terrace to say goodbye. We ate fried chicken and potato salad, and Marilyn cut large slices of cake. Some reminiscing was done: What was your favorite Benefit? What was your least favorite Benefit? Do you remember when the tent broke and we were standing in three inches of water?
Most of what happened over the past decade I know only through stories and guesses. Most of Marilyn’s career at ICA took place before my time there. The working folders of Staff Writers past are nested inside each other like Russian dolls on ICA’s shared computer drive: Susan inside Joseph inside Brett inside Elysa inside me. All of us have benefited from Marilyn’s warmth, her kindness, her acute editing pen, her extraordinary knowledge of the Philadelphia community, and her passion for the arts and philanthropy.
Marilyn, the offices of ICA will be duller without your bright plumage.
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