THE LUCAS MUSEUM of Narrative Art in Los Angeles has tapped Sandra Jackson-Dumont as its new director and CEO. Envisioned by billionaire philanthropist and legendary filmmaker George Lucas, the focus of the Lucas Museum is visual storytelling through filmmaking and a variety of other artistic mediums, including painting and photography. The museum is currently under construction in LA’s Exposition Park and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.

 


News of Sandra Jackson-Dumont’s appointment as director and CEO of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles was announced Oct. 30. | Courtesy of Rebecca Schear

 

A curator and museum educator, Jackson-Dumont has served as chair of education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 2014. Previously, she was deputy director for education and public programs and adjunct curator in modern and contemporary art at the Seattle Art Museum (2006-14). She has also held posts at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. She is officially joining the Lucas Museum in January 2020, becoming one of the few African Americans running a mainstream art museum.

A staff of about 35 currently works for the Lucas Museum. When it opens, Jackson-Dumont will manage more than 230 people, overseeing the curatorial, museum experience, education, and collections management teams.

Jackson-Dumont was selected by the museum’s nine-member board of directors after an eight-month international search led by Koya Leadership Partners. A spokesperson told Culture Type that Lucas and Mellody Hobson, the museum’s married co-founders, were “actively involved” in the process of choosing the museum’s new leader. The board also includes Michael Govan, director and CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); Arne Duncan, education secretary during the Obama Administration; and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

The background and experience of Dumont align with the priorities of the museum where community engagement, education programming, and public programming are central to the mission.

“The work that Sandra has done throughout her extensive museum career is impressive and we look forward to her leadership,” said Lucas, who created the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, and advanced the possibilities of special effects technology in the film industry. “We want the Lucas Museum to be a vital resource for our community and we believe Sandra will help us achieve that goal.”

“We want the Lucas Museum to be a vital resource for our community and we believe Sandra will help us achieve that goal.” — George Lucas

THROUGHOUT HER MORE THAN two-decade career, Jackson-Dumont has developed programming around museum collections and special exhibitions for diverse audiences, including teens, families, young school children and their teachers, the blind and hearing impaired, as well as artists and scholars.

In an interview with Shondaland, published days before her appointment at the Lucas Museum, Jackson-Dumont said she wanted visitors to feel welcome at The Met. “I’m trying to move the idea away from people being visitors to the museum to being users,” she said. “You to go to a library to use it, right? You’re not a visitor to the library. I’ve been talking about how can we make this place the extension of what people do in their daily lives.”

She instituted significant new programs during her tenure at The Met. Aimed at 13-18 year olds, Teens Take Over the Met in partnership with more than 40 local cultural organizations features art making, performances, and music programs. The Civic Practice Partnership, a residency program inaugurated in 2018, supports local artists with deep connections to their communities.

To coincide with “Mastry,” Kerry James Marshall’s landmark retrospective, Jackson-Dumont organized a daylong symposium featuring participants from a range of disciplines, including Marshall, Ian Alteveer, Kimberly Bryant, Huey Copeland, Fred Eversley, Thelma Golden, Arthur Jafa, Toshi Reagon, Helen Molesworth, Robert O’Meally, Greg Tate, and Hank Thomas. She also edited a publication documenting the creative convening.

“Since joining The Met, Sandra has been an unwavering champion of the museum’s mission to connect people with art and culture and we wish her all the best for her next, exciting challenge,” Met Director Max Holland said in a statement. “She has shaped the landscape of this field, and we look forward to carrying on the many successful initiatives she led here.”

 


Lucas Museum of Narrative Art rendering, exterior view. | Courtesy Lucas Museum

 

PRIOR TO THE MET, in Seattle, Jackson-Dumont worked across SAM’s three venues—the art museum, which administers the biannual Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize; the Asian Art Museum; and Olympic Sculpture Park. She led educational programs, community outreach, and interpretive technology and also worked directly with artists such as Theaster Gates, Titus Kaphar, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Sondra Perry on projects and exhibitions in a curatorial capacity.

In 2017, Jackson-Dumont told artnet News, “…when you think of the things you most enjoy at a museum, someone in education and public programs probably helped develop it.”

“…when you think of the things you most enjoy at a museum, someone in education and public programs probably helped develop it.”
— Sandra Jackson-Dumont

She also said it was hard to choose the most memorable project of her career and then cited, “Theaster Gates: Listening Room,” which she presented at the Seattle Art Museum, showcasing the Dr. Wax vinyl record collection the artist acquired when the record store on the south side of Chicago went out of business.

Every month they invited DJ to the museum who used the collection to play music all day. “We also took over a storefront outside of the museum. It was a record store where nothing was for sale, but anyone could come in and listen to music,” Jackson-Dumont told artnet. “We had dance parties, poetry readings, and it became a community hub. It ended up attracting people who wouldn’t normally come to the museum, and started all these incredible conversations.”

Earlier in her career, Jackson-Dumont was director of Education and Public Programs at the Studio Museum and head of School, Family, and Intergenerational Programs at the Whitney Museum. She also served in adjunct faculty positions at New York University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Jackson-Dumont counts several women as mentors. The list includes curators, museum directors, and artists—Deborah Willis, Connie Wolf, Thelma Golden, Lowery Stokes Sims, and Lorna Simpson, among them.

Accepting the post at the Lucas Museum, she is returning to her home state of California. A San Francisco native, Jackson-Dumont has a B.A. in art history from Sonoma State University and earned an M.A. in art history from Howard University.

AT THE LUCAS MUSEUM, Jackson-Dumont will oversee wide-ranging curatorial and education offerings, organizing exhibitions and programs in the museum’s expansive gallery spaces and classrooms.

“Education of our mission, so it’s fitting that the director of the Lucas Museum be a deeply experienced museum educator,” said Hobson, who is co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments. “Sandra has more than two decades of experience in the field, and we believe she is the leader who will help bring our vision of creating an inspiring and accessible museum to life.”

“Education of our mission, so it’s fitting that the director of the Lucas Museum be a deeply experienced museum educator.” — Mellody Hobson

The museum has a unique focus, exploring visual storytelling through both fine art and popular art, categories not ordinarily presented in the same institution. Seeded by the personal collection of Lucas, the museum’s holdings already comprise more than 100,000 works of art in mediums spanning painting, photography, illustration, comic art, and elements related to filmmaking such as storyboards, costumes, set designs, animation, and visual effects. (The museum collection will not include actual films, although programming will include daily film screenings in state-of-the-art theaters.)

The collection encompasses three major categories of work: historical narrative art, cinematic art, and digital art. Narrative art holdings include works by Edgar Degas, Winslow Homer, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Frida Kahlo, Thomas Hart Benton, George Bellows, and Norman Rockwell; photographs by Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Walker Evans, and Alfred Stieglitz; illustrations by Charles Schulz, Al Capp, Jim Davis, and Harold Gray; and contemporary works by the likes of Kara Walker, Keith Haring, and Jacob Lawrence’s “Aesop’s Fables” series of 23 drawings (1969). The collection is in its infancy and is expected to grow over the decades.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The museum is actively collecting, its perspective broadened by Hobson, who, even before she joined the board, was building a personal collection of contemporary art with an emphasis on African American artists.” Hence, the museum’s acquisitions by Walker and Lawrence.

A decade in the making, the museum faced challenges identifying a location before landing in Los Angeles. Sites on Chicago’s lakefront and in San Francisco (Treasure Island and Crissy Field at the Presidio) were seriously considered and abandoned.

The groundbreaking for the Lucas Museum took place in March 2018. Designed by architect Ma Yansong, the 300,000 square-foot museum (including nearly 100,000 square feet of gallery space) is being constructed on an 11-acre campus in Exposition Park adjacent to the California African American Museum and California Science Center. The University of Southern California (USC), is across the street from the cultural institutions.

As the vision for the museum comes to life, Jackson-Dumont’s responsibilities will include working with the operations, architecture, and construction teams to see the project through to completion, ensuring the structure meets the museum’s overarching vision and programmatic requirements.

 


Lucas Museum of Narrative Art rendering, interior view. | Courtesy Lucas Museum

 

LUCAS AND HOBSON are influential figures in a number of realms, including the arts, with education at the center of their philanthropic investments.

Through his companies Lucas Film and Industrial Light & Magic, Lucas transformed storytelling and technology in the film industry. His gift of $175 million to USC, his alma mater, was the largest in the university’s history and re-established the film school with an interdisciplinary focus under a new name: USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Lucas donated $1 million to help build the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall and also gave $1 million to the Obama Foundation to support the Obama Presidential Library. (A few years ago, both the Obama library and the Lucas Museum were vying for sites on Chicago’s lakefront.)

Hobson serves as vice chair of Starbucks Board of Directors. She is also on the boards of JP Morgan Chase and the Chicago Economic Club, where she recently served as chair (2018-19). She was also chair of Dreamworks (2012-2016). In June, Hobson was appointed to the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Founded in 1991, the George Lucas Educational Foundation is “dedicated to transforming K-12 education so that all students can acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to thrive in their studies, careers, and adult lives.”

In 2010, Lucas and Hobson signed on to The Giving Pledge, established by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, a commitment to dedicating half their wealth to philanthropy.

The couple endowed scholarships for black and Latino film students, donating $20 million to the USC School of Cinematic Arts through the George Lucas Family Foundation. The foundation also donated $25 million to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, funding half the cost of the Gordon Parks Arts Hall. Serving middle- and high school students, the building houses art studios, an art gallery, music rehearsal rooms, a round auditorium, and a black-box theater.

In 2015, Hobson and Lucas loaned $12 million to Johnson Publishing, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, and were among the company’s creditors when its photography and media archives was offered in a bankruptcy sale a few months ago. As creditors, they stood to receive the collection if there were no viable bidders. (In July, the historic archives were purchased by four foundations on behalf of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute.)

THEIR DECISION TO HIRE Jackson-Dumont as director at the Lucas Museum is particularly notable. The museum field has struggled with diversity for years and while representation in curatorial ranks is slowly improving, leadership opportunities in the museum field remain elusive. According to a 2018 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey published by the Mellon Foundation, people of color account for 12 percent of museum leadership, including executive positions.

Only a handful of black people lead mainstream American museums dedicated to art, serving in the top post. Jackson-Dumont is joining thin ranks that include Franklin Sirmans at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, Belinda Tate at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Michigan, and Linda Harrison at the Newark Museum in New Jersey. (In addition, Lonnie Bunch was named secretary of the Smithsonian in May, taking over the vast institution that focuses on science, history, and culture and includes several art museums.)

“I am honored to lead the Lucas Museum,” Jackson-Dumont said in a statement. “This is a fantastic opportunity to join an ambitious organization at a crucial time in its founding and development. With an expansive collection devoted to the art of storytelling, the Lucas Museum will be an innovative place of relevance and inspiration. I am looking forward to partnering with the board, Lucas Museum colleagues, artists, and communities to establish and build this unique institution.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Sandra Jackson-Dumont in an interview with Shondaland

FIND MORE about Sandra Jackson-Dumont in a 2015 TEDx Talk she gave about the fear of being found out

 

READ MORE SF Chronicle journalist is first to look at collection that will seed Lucas Museum

READ MORE LA Times art critic questions the entire concept of the Lucas Museum

 


Lucas Museum of Narrative Art rendering, aerial view. | Courtesy Lucas Museum

 

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