THE SUGAR HILL CHILDREN’S MUSEUM of Art and Storytelling is promoting from within. The Harlem museum whose primary audience is 3 to 8-year-olds, announced the appointment of Lauren Kelley (above) as director and chief curator. Kelley has been with the museum since 2013, when it was still in development. Previously serving as associate director of curatorial programs, she has organized all of the institution’s exhibitions since it opened to the public in October 2015.

Located at the intersection of St. Nicholas and 155th Street in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum is housed on the ground floor of a mixed-use building that brings together affordable permanent housing, early education, and cultural programming. The revitalization project was developed by Broadway Housing Communities, a nonprofit organization based in West Harlem and Washington Heights, and designed by architect David Adjaye.

“Lauren’s visionary and inclusive approach to the arts shaped the development of museum programs as well as outreach to artists and the local community. I have no doubt that under her leadership the museum will continue to flourish as a model of creative place making and as an incubator for the dreams and aspirations of young children and families from Sugar Hill and beyond,” said Ellen Baxter, chair of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum board and executive director of Broadway Housing Communities.

“I have no doubt that under [Lauren’s] leadership the museum will continue to flourish as a model of creative place making and as an incubator for the dreams and aspirations of young children and families from Sugar Hill and beyond.” — Ellen Baxter, chair of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum

Prior to joining the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum, Kelley was founding director of Prairie View A&M University’s art gallery. An artist and Harlem resident, the children’s museum said she has been instrumental in the organization’s strategic growth and has also driven outreach efforts to artists. Kelley developed the curatorial and public programs and launched its artist-in-residence program, which she will continue to lead in her new role.

Focusing on creativity, language, and literacy, the museum’s family-friendly programming includes art exhibitions, art-making workshops, and a storytelling series, along with an on-site preschool and early childhood arts education. Partnerships with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, Cool Culture, the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, among others, have bolstered programming.

Further shoring up its leadership team, the museum announced an additional promotion. Jennifer Ifil-Ryan is stepping into a newly created position. She will serve as deputy director and director of creative engagement. She previously was associate director of education and community engagement at the children’s museum. In her new role, Ifil-Ryan is responsible for expanding the scope of the education programming and curriculum.


TOP IMAGE: Director and Chief Curator Lauren Kelley. | Photo by Demetrius Oliver, Courtesy Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling


From left, The Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling is located on the ground floor of a mixed-use building, designed by architect David Adjaye, which includes permanent affordable housing. Photo by Ed Reeves; Jennifer Ifil Ryan has been promoted to deputy director and director of creative engagement, a newly created position at the museum. Photo by Demetrius Oliver. | Both images courtesy Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling


EARLY ON, THE MUSEUM was to be named for Harlem-born artist Faith Ringgold, but she severed ties with the project in 2012. She said the plans did not account for proper security, insurance, and storage for art.

“I have no way to participate if it’s not a museum. I have no interest in a children’s museum if it’s just a playpen, like most of them are,” Ringgold told the New York Times.

Nonetheless, the museum moved forward. During its short tenure, the museum has sought to expose its young audience to emerging and established artists who hail from or have ties to Harlem and Northern Manhattan.

Current exhibitions include “Shinique Smith: Secret Garden Laughing Place,” which is “an expansive labyrinth and abstract painting, that contemplates matters of transnational consumption, as well as the human need for play and wonder.”

A New York-based painter and sculpture, Smith’s practice explores the nature of things and related matters of consumption and disposal. On view through June 25, her engaging installation encourages children to consider waste production and what it means to be a global citizen.

On view through Aug. 27, “Chester Higgins: Passing Through” exposes visitors to a variety of cultures and places, from Harlem to the Americas and Africa, via a series of compelling black-and-white images. An award-winning New York-based photographer, Higgins spent his career at the New York Times and over the years has pursued independent projects exhibited in museums around the world. The selection of photographs presented at the children’s museum spans 1969 to 2002.

“I look forward to more ambitiously celebrating the cultural heritage of Sugar Hill and advancing the social justice mission of Broadway Housing Communities. The need to dilate imaginations (art) and perspectives (storytelling) has always been critical to ensuring societal health, but this is especially true now, in our community’s and our nation’s narrative,” Kelley said.

“As a cultural institution, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum is poised to not only continue serving as a ‘second home’ to local families, but grow as a site for all (children as well as adults) to explore our inter-connectedness, self-determination, and how access to ideas/empathy/light/color/aesthetics engenders a world where anyone can thrive.” CT


The photographs of Chester Higgins have been published in several volumes, including “Feeling the Spirit,” “Black Woman,” “Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging,” and “Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey.” Featuring invaluable insights from museum leaders, curators, and architects, “Making a Museum in the 21st Century” anticipates the future of museum design and operational sustainability as institutional priorities shift to audience engagement, evolving visitor demographics, and serving as both a cultural and community leader.


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