THE CUMMER MUSEUM OF ART & GARDENS announced the appointment of a new leader yesterday. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee is joining the Jacksonville, Fla., museum as George W. and Kathleen I. Gibbs Director and CEO.

For two decades, Brownlee has been serving as director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta. She officially begins at the Cummer Museum in December.

“I am honored to lead the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens—a forward-thinking institution that is prepared to meet the opportunities and challenges of this unprecedented time,” Brownlee said in a statement.

“I anticipate working in collaboration with a variety of partners and stakeholders—both existing and new—to expand its footprint as the jewel of Jacksonville and an exceptional cultural resource for the region, the nation and the world.”

Brownlee is joining a small group of Black directors leading mainstream American art museums, including Franklin Sirmans at Perez Art Museum Miami, Belinda Tate at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Michigan, Linda Harrison at the Newark Museum in New Jersey, and Sandra Jackson-Dumont at the forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles. (In addition, Lonnie Bunch is secretary of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., a vast institution that focuses on science, history, and culture and includes several art museums.)

The Cummer Museum conducted a nationwide search to identify its next director. Led by Susan Towler, vice chair of the museum’s board of trustee, a committee of eight museum trustees made the selection.

“Our search committee had the opportunity to meet several excellent candidates, and it was clear that Dr. Brownlee was the most qualified with the right experience, passion and enthusiasm to accelerate the Museum’s position as a world-class destination,” Towler said in a statement.

“Her strategic vision for the Museum aligned with ours, and we are confident that her arrival will mark a period of dynamic growth.”

“I am honored to lead the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens—a forward-thinking institution that is prepared to meet the opportunities and challenges of this unprecedented time.” — Andrea Barnwell Brownlee

BROWNLEE IS A MUSEUM LEADER, curator, art historian, and writer. She was named director of the Spelman Museum in 2001, shortly after its founding in 1996. The exhibitions she has curated and overseen at the HBCU have focused almost exclusively on important Black women artists—looking back at overlooked figures, such as Mildred Thompson and Beverly Buchanan, and introducing audiences to a new generation of artists, including Zanele Muholi, Amy Sherald, and Deborah Roberts. In recent years, exhibitions have also focused on Maren Hassinger, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, and Mickalene Thomas.

In 2007, Brownlee co-curated “Hale Woodruff, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the Academy” with Amalia Amaki. The exhibition commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Spelman College Department of Art and was also intended to mark the 10 year anniversary of the museum.

This year, “Theaster Gates: Black Image Corporation” opened at the museum in January, showcasing photography by Moneta Sleet Jr., and Isaac Sutton from the Johnson Publishing Archive. The images focus on Black women “in their everyday lives, historical moments, and studio settings.” The exhibition was cut short due to the museum’s temporary, ongoing closure in the wake of the pandemic.

Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell praised Brownlee’s tenure in a letter to the Spelman community. Campbell announced Brownlee’s departure and cited her exceptional leadership and contributions over the years. She noted her groundbreaking exhibition program, highly regarded public conversations with artists and fellow curators and scholars, acquisition choices that built the museum’s permanent collection, and pioneering development of the Atlanta University Center curatorial studies program, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“Dr. Barnwell Brownlee leaves a Spelman Museum that gained a stellar reputation under her leadership, not only in Atlanta but worldwide,” said Campbell, who has a background in arts administration and once led the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Dr. Brownlee was the most qualified with the right experience, passion and enthusiasm to accelerate the Museum’s position as a world-class destination.” — Susan Towler, Vice Chair Cummer Museum Board

BROWNLEE EARNED A PH.D., in art history from Duke University (2001). A Spelman alum, she completed dual bachelor of arts degrees in English and art history from the HBCU.

She has served on boards and received numerous academic and professional awards and opportunities. Prior to arriving at Spelman Museum, Brownlee was a MacArthur Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago (1998-2000). She is an alum of the Getty Leadership Institute (now the Museum Leadership Institute). In 2008, she served as the vice chair of the City of Atlanta Arts Funding Task Force.

In 2018, Atlanta magazine declared Brownlee Best Curator of the Year. She is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors.

Brownlee was awarded the David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art in 2013. After David Driskell (1931-2020), the renowned artist, curator, and scholar died on April 1, due to complications from COVID-19, Brownlee hosted a conversation with former Driskell Prize winners on Spelman Museum’s Be Your Own Muse podcast. Kirsten Pai Buick, Naima Keith, and Valerie Cassel Oliver reflected on Driskell’s life and work and his impact on the field and their careers.

After spending her entire career at Spelman, joining the Cummer Museum opens a new chapter.

“Since our search process began, the Board sought candidates who shared our vision for the future of the Cummer Museum,” Pam D. Paul, chair of the Cummer Museum’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement.

“Dr. Brownlee is widely known for her impactful leadership and significant exhibition agendas. We are eager to work with her to ensure the Cummer Museum continues to serve our community and beyond to the very best of its ability. We extend our warmest welcome to Dr. Brownlee, an esteemed museum leader who represents all that the Cummer Museum has become—and what we are actively becoming through the broadening of our collection, programs and initiatives.” CT


TOP IMAGE: Andrea Barnwell Brownlee. | Photo courtesy Cummer Museum


Exhibition catalogs have been published to accompany the exhibitions on view at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art over the years, with select volumes edited by Andrea Barnwell Brownlee. Some of the catalogs include “Deborah Roberts: The Evolution of Mimi,” “Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness,” and “Amy Sherald.” “Theaster Gates: The Black Image Corporation” was published to complement the traveling exhibition. “Hale Woodruff, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the Academy” documents the Spelman Museum exhibition. Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell authored the biography “An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden.”


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.