In 2004, Shelley and Donald Rubin founded the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, with the aim of building a broad and thoughtful audience for Himalayan art. The Museum offers a wide range of cultural and educational programs aimed at contextualizing the museum's collections for an audience of both adults and students. It is at the same time an international center for the study and presentation of Himalayan art-a resource for scholars worldwide. From the outset, Shelley was committed to creating a uniquely welcoming and peaceful physical environment, with richly colored spaces that are by turns both intimate and dramatic. Her determination has helped to make RMA both a meditative oasis in the city and a vibrant community institution.
As co-chair of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and a board member of THIRTEEN/WNET, Human Rights Watch and trustee emeritus of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, Shelley has supported numerous cultural and humanitarian projects that use art and culture to make lives concretely better all over the world. The Foundation funds specific arts initiatives, such as themed residencies that bring artists working in the Himalayan region and in Cuba to the Vermont Studio Center. It also invests in a number of web-based educational resources such as Arts of the Islamic World, Himalayan Art Resources, and Treasury of Lives. These projects bring cultures together by archiving and presenting vast amounts of biographical, historical and iconographic data so that it is available for any curious person to access worldwide. The Foundation's commitment to the practical application of art is probably best represented by Music and Memory, an initiative that promotes access to personalized music to improve the health and quality of life for the elderly and infirm.
Shelley's drive to actively engage the arts community in New York, understand the practical problems that artists in the city face as they live and work, and expand the relationship between art and life and create new audiences led to the founding of A Blade of Grass in 2011.