MANY CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS have finally come around to realizing that it is imperative that their boards, staff and programming reflect the communities they serve. Putting such measures into practice is another matter. A recent Mellon Foundation survey conducted with the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums found most museum staffs lack diversity. Men overwhelmingly hold leadership positions, but gender equity has gained ground—women represent 60 percent of museum personnel, with the majority serving in curatorial, conservation, and education roles which are generally a pipeline toward leadership positions. However, the situation for people of color is far less representative.

According to the survey, 28 percent of museum staff members are non-white, but the majority are employed in security, facilities, finance, and human resources positions. The figures for museum curators, conservators, educators and leaders, are dismal. For these positions that shape museums as institutions of research, education and cultural exploration, only 4 percent are African American and 3 percent Hispanic.

Progress is slow, but tangible. Over the past year, a number of African Americans have accepted prestigious appointments at important art and cultural institutions across the country. These curators and cultural leaders to watch are in the position to drive exhibition programming, acquisitions, innovations in what is considered art, and influence hiring, fellowship and internship opportunities, and how institutions grow their audiences. A selection of key appointments from Los Angeles, to Detroit, Bentonville, Ark., New York, Miami, and beyond, follows:


Early in 2016, curator Naima Keith joined the California African American Museum in her hometown of Los Angeles. | Courtesy CAAM

Naima Keith, Deputy Director | California African American Museum (CAAM), Los Angeles

In February, Naima Keith joined the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles as deputy director for exhibits and programs. She previously served as associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Keith is currently presenting two exhibitions at CAAM. She curated “Genevieve Gaignard: Smell the Roses” and organized “Hank Willis Thomas: Black Righteous Space” (both through Feb. 19, 2017).


Adrienne Edwards will continue her curatorial role at Performa during her tenure at the Walker Art Center. | Photo by Whitney Browne

Adrienne Edwards, Curator-at-Large| Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis

The Walker Art Center appointed Adrienne Edwards as curator-at-large, Visual Arts in March. Based in New York, she is continuing her role at Performa, where she serves as curator and head of programming at the Performa Institute. On Feb. 24, 2017, Edwards is conducting a conversation with artist Ellen Gallagher at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. The talk is co-presented by the USC Roski School of Art and Design and the museum.

READ CULTURE TALK with Adrienne Edwards about “Blackness in Abstraction” exhibition


A veteran of SFMOMA, Maria Jenson, was also the founding director of ArtPadSF, an independent art fair.

Maria Jenson, Executive Director | SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco

Shortly after the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) reopened after an extensive renovation, Maria Jenson, who helped oversee the opening celebration as community relations and public partnerships manager, took on a new challenge. In May, she began her tenure as executive director of SOMArts Cultural Center. Upon her appointment, the San Francisco Chronicle described the center as “an organization that, in the midst of soaring housing prices resulting in displacement of grassroots arts, is seen by many as an essential part of the city’s arts ecosystem, offering up an accessible space for artists and curators of all levels.”


Meg Onli joined ICA Philadelphia in June. | Photo by Constance Mensh via ICA Philadelphia

Meg Onli, Assistant Curator | Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia

The Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania (ICA Philadelphia) hired Meg Onli as assistant curator in June. Onli, whose “work attends to the intricacies of race and the production of space,” previously served as program coordinator at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago, and also founded the website Black Visual Archive.


Kevin Young is the author of several critically recognized books, including “Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015,” published earlier this year. | Photo by Melanie Dunea/CPi

Kevin Young, Director| Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, N.Y.

Distinguished author and professor Kevin Young was named director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in August. Previously, he was a professor of creative writing and English at Emory University in Atlanta, where he also served as curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library and curator of Literary Collections at the Rose Library. The Schomburg is devoted to exploring the global black experience through educational and public programming and the preservation of materials reflecting the diaspora, including manuscripts and rare books, photographs, and video and audio recordings. The collection of art and artifacts at the historic Harlem institution is particularly rich in work produced during the Harlem Renaissance and WPA eras.


During her tenure at the Hammer Museum, Jamillah James played a major role in the institution’s collaboration with Art + Practice—the nonprofit co-founded by artist Mark Bradford—organizing exhibitions and programming. | Photo by Stefanie Keenan, Getty Images

Jamillah James, Curator | Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Formerly known as the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the newly named Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA) is relocating downtown. In August, the museum announced a major hire, naming Jamillah James as curator. James was previously assistant curator at the Hammer Museum where she curated a project show of works by Njideka Akunyili Crosby and co-curated a major Charles Gaines survey. ICA LA is expected to open in fall 2017.


Adrienne Chadwick brings more than two decades of experience in arts administration, education programming and strategic planning to the Perez Art Museum Miami. | Photo courtesy PAMM

Adrienne Chadwick, Deputy Director for Education | Perez Art Museum Miami

In August, the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), which is led by Franklin Sirmans, named three additions to its executive team, including Adrienne Chadwick as the museum’s new deputy director for education. In making the announcement, PAMM said its diverse art educational programming is the largest in Miami-Dade County outside of the school system itself. An experienced arts administrator, Chadwick most recently served as the education manager at Nova Southeastern University Art Museum Fort Lauderdale (NSU Art Museum). She has also held positions at The Art Gallery of Ontario, Miami Children’s Museum, and the Young At Art Museum in Davie, Fla.


During her tenure at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Lauren Haynes curated several important exhibitions, oversaw the museum’s collection and acquisitions, and also guided its highly regarded artist-in-residence program. | Photo by King Texas, Courtesy Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Lauren Haynes, Curator of Contemporary Art | Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.

After a decade at the Studio Museum in Harlem, associate curator Lauren Haynes was appointed curator of contemporary art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. The news came in August, months after the museum announced plans to transform a local industrial plant into an expansive exhibition space for contemporary art. Haynes co-curated the recent Alma Thomas exhibition at the Studio Museum and co-edited the show’s catalog. At Crystal Bridges, Haynes will contribute to all aspects of the museum’s contemporary art program including exhibitions, acquisitions, and publications, as well as community programming and donor engagement.

READ CULTURE TALK with Lauren Haynes about Alma Thomas exhibition


When Baltimore erupted in violence following the police killing of Freddie Gray, the city shut down. Carla Hayden, then the city’s chief librarian, resisted pressure to close a local branch in the hotbed of protest. She kept the library open, welcoming the public. | Photo by Dave Munch/Baltimore Sun Media Group via Associated Press

Carla Hayden, Librarian | Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

In September, Carla Hayden was sworn in as the 14th librarian of Congress. She previously served as CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Her appointment is historic. Appointed by President Obama, Hayden is the first woman and first African American to lead the nation’s library—the largest in the world—a repository of knowledge and culture including millions of documents, books, photographs, recordings, maps and newspaper archives. Her chief priority is increasing engagement with the library’s resources by improving digital access to its collections, tying its materials to school curricula, and collaborating with with public and university libraries.


Camille Ann Brewer previously worked at the University of Chicago, was an assistant curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and also served as an art consultant and curator building collections and organizing exhibitions for public museums and private clients. | Photo courtesy George Washington University Museum

Camille Ann Brewer, Curator of Contemporary Art | George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.

In September, The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., announced a historic appointment. Camille Ann Brewer was hired to serve as the museum’s first full-time curator of contemporary art. She is charged with using the museum’s diverse collections of historical material—including textiles from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the indigenous cultures of the Americas—as a foundation for developing a new collection of contemporary textile art. She previously served as executive director of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium at the University of Chicago.


Hamza Walker worked for more than two decades at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, joining the institution in 1994. | Photo by Dawoud Bey, Courtesy LAXART

Hamza Walker, Executive Director | LAXART, Los Angeles

Hamza Walker began his new post as executive director of LAXART in Los Angeles on Oct. 1. Prior to the appointment, he was the long-serving director of education and associate curator at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. He was also an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the years, Walker has became known for his public conversations with artists at the Ren and elsewhere. He co-organized the Hammer Museum’s “Made in LA” 2016 Biennial in Los Angeles with Aram Moshayedi, formerly a curator at LAXART. The alternative art space, was founded in 2005 by Lauri Firstenberg, who left the institution earlier this year, prompting the search for a new director.


Aria Dean comes to Rhizome from Los Angeles where she was a writer, artist, and co-director of As It Stands LA, an alternative gallery and project space.| Photo by Emmanuel Olunkwa, Courtesy Rhizome

Aria Dean, Assistant Curator | Rhizome, New York, N.Y.

In October, Aria Dean joined Rhizome as assistant curator of net art. Rhizome describes itself as “the leading international born-digital art organization.” An affiliate-in-residence at the New Museum in New York, it has been online since 1996. Dean will work with Rhizome’s leadership to “preserve, present, and re-perform works of net art from the 1980s to the present day,” organize events, and publish online articles. Dean’s hiring comes amid efforts to expand the organization’s curatorial team, with an emphasis on preservation and amplifying its technical expertise.


Prior to developing his curatorial practice, Dexter Wimberly was a marketing, communications, and strategic planning expert for a various art institutions. | Photo by Hiroki Kobayashi

Dexter Wimberly, Executive Director | Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, N.J.

Independent curator Dexter Wimberly was appointed executive director of Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in October. Wimberly organized several exhibitions as a visiting curator, prior to joining the Newark, N.J.–based nonprofit. He has also has curated exhibitions and developed programs at a number of galleries and institutions, including The Brooklyn Historical Society, the California African American Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, New York. With Wimberly at the helm, Aljira is launching a yearlong series of exhibitions featuring solo projects by significant, yet underexposed artists. The first, “Zachary Fabri: From the Wolf to the Fox” is on view through Jan. 15, 2017.


As curator-at-large, Isolde Brielmaier will play a role in expanding interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the Tang Teaching Museum, advise on key the museum acquisitions, and interact with the wider campus community. | Photo by Mangue-Banzima, Courtesy Tang Teaching Museum

Isolde Brielmaier, Curator-at-Large | Tang Teaching Museum, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Curator, scholar and writer Isolde Brielmaier joined the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College as curator-at-large in November. The Tang Teaching Museum is expanding its curatorial team in order to advance its 21st century approach to presenting innovative contemporary art exhibitions and programming. Brielmaier is an assistant professor of critical studies in the Department of Photography, Imaging, and Emerging Media at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and also serves as curator and director of arts and cultural programming at Westfield World Trade Center. Previously, she was chief curator of the SCAD Museum of Art.


Kimberli Gant has a healthy exhibition portfolio, lectures regularly and has contributed to a number of catalogs. Earlier this year, she co-curated “Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam Through Time & Place” at the Newark Museum. | Photo courtesy Chrysler Museum of Art

Kimberli Gant, Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art | Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Va.

The Chrysler Museum of Art announced the appointment of Kimberli Gant as curator of modern and contemporary art in November. She is completing a Ph.D. in art history at the University of Texas at Austin and currently serves as the Mellon Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Arts of Global Africa at the Newark Museum, in Newark, N.J. Her tenure at the Chrysler Museum begins in mid-January, after her fellowship concludes.


Taylor Renee Aldrdige has previously held posts at the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at Harvard and was awarded the Goldman Sachs Junior Fellowship at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. | Photo courtesy Detroit Institute of Arts

Taylor Renee Aldridge, Assistant Curator | Detroit Institute of Arts

At the end of November, the Detroit Institute of Arts announced new appointments in its contemporary art department, including Taylor Renee Aldridge who will serve as an assistant curator. An arts writer and curator, she explores the intersection of race, equity and culture in contemporary art. Aldridge co-founded ARTS.BLACK, an online publication of art criticism from black perspectives in 2015, and in July of this year, co-organized Black Art Incubator, an engaging month-long project of public programming at Recess in New York.


Lucy Mensah is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, where she earned a Ph.D. in English, with a focus on 20th-century African American literary and visual culture. | Photo via

Lucy Mensah, Assistant Curator | Detroit Institute of Arts

Lucy Mensah was also hired as an assistant curator in the contemporary art department at the Deroit Institute of Arts (DIA). She is a Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the modern and contemporary department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her appointment comes as DIA is sharpening the focus on its contemporary art collection, including developing new projects and public programming to better engage the community. Mensah is joining the museum in April 2017.


Prior to her appointment at the McColl Center, Nicole J. Caruth organized a number of important national exhibitions, including “The Grace Jones Project” at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. | Photo by Dana Damewood, Courtesy McColl Center

Nicole J. Caruth, Artistic Director | McColl Center for Art + Innovation, Charlotte, N.C.

Earlier this month, Nicole J. Caruth began her tenure as artistic director at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation, in Charlotte, N.C. A writer and curator of contemporary art, she joins the center from The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Neb., where she was director of pedagogy and public practice. In that role, she was charged with ensuring that the organization’s commitment to social justice was all of its programs. Organized “in response to the increasingly visible, lawful violence against Black bodies in the United States,” the McColl center is presenting “The World is a Mirror of My Freedom,” opening Jan. 25, 2017. CT


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