THE MISSISSIPPI MUSEUM OF ART (MMA) in Jackson, Miss., announced two new curatorial appointments this week. Following a national search, the museum named Ryan N. Dennis, chief curator and artistic director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange (CAPE), and Holly R. Harrison, deputy director for art and programs.

Dennis will lead the museum’s curatorial team, organizing exhibitions and related public programming and overseeing acquisitions. She is also charged with initiating new ways to connect with and expand audiences through partnerships and collaborations and initiatives that extend the art experience beyond the confines of the museum and into the community.

Dennis joins MMA from Project Row Houses in Houston, where she has been curator and programs director since 2017. She officially begins her new role in June.

Harrison has worked in museums and foundations across the country. Most recently, she served for five years as a program associate on the Arts and Cultural Heritage team at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York. She is joining MMA in April.

MMA is the largest art museum in the state. The museum announced the staffing news on March 10 and emphasized the institution’s commitment to equity and inclusion and providing a civic space where the community can engage and explore the beauty of the South and challenges of the past through the lens of art and artists.

“On behalf of the Museum’s board of trustees and staff, we are delighted to welcome Ryan and Holly to MMA. Each has exceptional professional experience and track records developing innovative ideas and implementing creative solutions,” MMA Director Betsy Bradley said in a statement.

“We are excited to further strengthen the Museum’s program and forge new paths together—connecting art, artists, and visitors with a goal of giving voice to and generating opportunities for the critical work of reckoning with the past, engaging with one another in the present, and envisioning a future without division. Together with our colleagues, the Museum will continue to reveal and illuminate new narratives about Mississippi. We eagerly look forward to having them share their passion for the arts with our visitors, the Jackson and regional community, and the art world globally.”

“We are excited to further strengthen the Museum’s program and forge new paths together—connecting art, artists, and visitors with a goal of giving voice to and generating opportunities for the critical work of reckoning with the past, engaging with one another in the present, and envisioning a future without division.” — MMA Director Betsy Bradley

Dennis has been a vital part of the work at Project Row Houses (PRH) for the past eight years. Based in Houston’s Third Ward, a historic African American neighborhood, the community-based, nonprofit connects art and community through programs that serve local artists, offer creative solutions to local problems, and preserve the city’s culture and history. Such programs provide studio space for artists, affordable housing for young single mothers, and support for small businesses.

Joining PRH in 2012, Dennis began as public art director and curator before being promoted to curator and programs director, five years later. Her duties spanned exhibition and program development, institutional partnerships, and fundraising. During her tenure, she created the organization’s Strategic Art Plan, established summer residencies for local undergraduate art students, and implemented a program for site-specific artist projects.

Previously, Dennis served as traveling exhibition and artists-in-residence manager at the Museum for African Art (now The Africa Center) in New York City (2010‒2012) and curatorial assistant at The Menil Collection in Houston (2007‒2009). Last October, she was named co-curator and co-creative director of the 2020 Texas Biennial, which is scheduled to take place in the fall in Austin, with some programming in cities across the state.

Dennis received a B.A. degree from the University of Houston (2007) and an M.A. degree in arts and cultural management from the Pratt Institute in New York City (2011).

“I am thrilled to be joining the Mississippi Museum of Art at this moment in time. The MMA is doing important work around restitution, engagement, and visioning new futures for the local and national community. I look forward to bringing my experiences from Project Row Houses into a museum setting because it allows me to push the boundaries of what museums traditionally have done,” Dennis said in a statement.

“Having the opportunity to expand the collection, elevate the histories of the South, and invest in Black optimism as a way to approach exhibition making and intersectional dialogue is of utmost importance. I look forward to working collaboratively with Betsy, Holly, and my MMA colleagues.”

She added: “The South is the belly of America’s troubled past, a region wherein so much beauty resides, and a site for cultural production that reverberates out—I am honored to be here and be a voice that amplifies artists of our time, the goals of the MMA, and the Jackson community.“ CT

 

IMAGE: March 1, 2019: Ryan N. Dennis at Marron (Tony) Park in Houston, her favorite neighborhood park. | Photo by Naima Green

 

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