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Behind our members: elizabeth kubany

02/03/2021 02:08:28 PM

Feb3

Welcome to Behind Our Members: a new feature that will give you a deeper look at some of the Oheb members you know and love.

What led you to the profession you are in? Was it always a passion, or something that naturally evolved? 

I run my own public relations agency specialized in ‘visual culture’ – architecture, design, art, landscape architecture, and cultural organizations.

Design and architecture have always been a part of my life. My grandparents were pioneers in the American furniture industry; they started a company called Furniture Specialties that designed and manufactured upholstered furniture in New York City. One uncle is an architect who designed a modern house in the woods on Long Island where we spent holidays, and my other uncle and aunt were art collectors who took a very early interest in American art and outsider art before there was a big market for them. And the house I grew up in was just always kind of cool and distinctive with a mix of mid-century modern and antique furniture and lots of books and art.

I set out to be an architect. I studied architecture at Columbia as an undergraduate, but really couldn’t draw well enough to fully explain my ideas. But I found I could express myself very well in writing. After spending a semester in Rome and becoming obsessed with Borromini and the Italian Baroque, I decided to change my major to architectural history. I then got my Masters in Architectural History and Theory from the Architectural Association in London. 

I didn’t really have a clear sense of what I wanted to do with this degree. One of my professors in graduate school suggested that I should edit and write books on architecture, so I tried to get a job at Princeton Architectural Press and Rizzoli. But no one was hiring in the recession of the early 1990s, so I took a job at a small travel PR agency just so I could support myself. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had absolutely no idea what PR was when I started in that job. PR really chose me, not the other way around.

I had always worked through college but this was my first ‘real’ job and I drank it up. I was capable so my boss gave me tons of responsibility – from billing to writing press releases to interacting with clients. After two years, I answered an ad in The New York Times for a PR position in an architecture firm. That firm was Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates and I ended up as the Director of PR there at the tender age of 25. With them I opened the New Victory and New Amsterdam Theaters on 42nd Street, the Rainbow Room, projects at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Bryant Park, and Windows on the World. It was a really transformational moment in New York City and a pivotal experience in my career. And I realized that I could combine my love of architecture and design with my experience in PR.

What is the most rewarding part of what you do & who is your ideal client? 

In the broadest terms, I see my work as that of a translator – taking complex, multi-layered, often technical stories, and making them interesting and relevant to the broadest audience possible. So, thinking about how to tell these stories in the most essential and understandable way for a variety of audiences is the starting point.

I believe that architecture and design are universally relevant. I don’t see design as being even remotely frivolous or “first world.” I reject the notion that architecture and design are only for the wealthy. In my view, this misunderstanding of architecture, the failure to appreciate that design has a social and human value is a huge problem in our culture. The result of this disconnect is that huge swaths of the population lack access to beauty or feel these disciplines don’t apply to them. 

This is a long-winded way of saying that what I find rewarding about my career is sharing important stories about design that assert its importance to a widest range of people.

All of my clients have interesting and complex stories to tell – even my furniture designers on my roster have profound ideas about craft and making to communicate – but if I had to choose one, I would probably select the Rothko Chapel in Houston, which just reopened a few months ago after undergoing a comprehensive restoration and campus expansion. Of course, the Chapel is an icon as a place of solace and as the home to 14 monumental canvases by Mark Rothko. But it is also an organization that has been on vanguard of social, religious, racial, economic and environmental justice since it was founded. I’ve loved telling this story as much as I’ve loved talking about the architecture and art.

Has COVID-19 affected the way you do your work or changed the way you interact with clients?  

The medium is different, but the mechanisms are really all the same. I’ve always worked for clients all over the world, so I’m used to doing this work from a distance. But I also rely on being able to see clients, visit sites, and meet journalists, so we’ve just had to adjust to doing all of this through zoom. The major challenge has been trying to open and get attention for projects during the pandemic. Moynihan Train Hall is one example. We were able to get incredible press for this project, but it required extreme flexibility up until the last moment.

How long have you been members of OHEB, and what do you enjoy most about the community?  

We joined in 2002, when our son was ready to go to Mickey Fried Preschool. I can’t believe it has been almost 20 years! Our kids have grown up at Oheb and I love that our community there has known our family since it was nascent. We have made friends that are like family at Oheb.

What are your hopes for 2021? Personally & professionally?  

So many things! Here is a short list – wide-spread vaccination and the ability to celebrate together, in person, very soon; an amazing new rabbi who injects new energy into our congregation; a far less manic news cycle (this is both a professional and personal desire!); and the ability to smother my friends and extended family with love. Hoping for much hugging in 2021.

Tue, May 11 2021 29 Iyyar 5781