ONE OF THE NATION’S most prestigious art schools will be led by Kymberly Pinder. Yale University President Peter Salovey announced Pinder as the next Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean of the Yale School of Art. An alum of Yale, where she earned her Ph.D., Pinder is the first Black person appointed dean since the school was founded more than 150 years ago in 1869.

A professor, curator, and academic leader, Pinder is returning to Yale from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), where she is currently interim president. Salovey announced her historic appointment in a message to the Yale University community on June 1. Her term as dean begins July 1.


Kymberly Pinder, who earned her Ph.D., from Yale, begins as dean of the Yale School of Art in New Haven, Conn., on July 1. (In background, a drawing by Jami Porter Lara). | Photo by Eve Caughey, Courtesy Yale


“Professor Pinder is widely known for her deep commitment to teaching, which is rooted in her belief that an education is key to social mobility and to finding solutions to local and national challenges,” Salovey said. “As she encourages students to pursue excellence and nurtures their artistic aspirations, she also teaches them to examine carefully every facet of society… I invite you to join me in congratulating Professor Pinder and in welcoming her back to the Yale community.”

Pinder told YaleNews she was looking forward to the “unmatched” opportunity before her. “The Yale School of Art provides an unmatched platform for promoting excellence while effecting positive change. I look forward to working with colleagues and students across the campus, the city, and the globe to extend the boundaries of arts practice and education,” she said.

“Objects and their making unlock and shape dialogues in some of the most transformative ways for both makers and viewers. It is an honor to return to Yale to help nurture its rich culture of rigorous inquiry. I am excited to bring my Yale education full circle.”

PREVIOUS COVERAGE about Pinder’s appointment has emphasized that she is the first woman of color named dean. These reports may have stemmed from a quote praising Pinder’s hiring provided to YaleNews by Marta Kuzma, the current dean since 2016 and the first woman to serve in the post.

“I am elated to learn Dr. Kymberly Pinder has been appointed as my successor. I am honored to entrust the office of the deanship to Dr. Pinder, who will be the first woman of color appointed dean within the School’s 150-year history,” said Kuzma. “Dr. Pinder’s experience as an academic and theorist, critically acclaimed for her writings around art and religion, history, and race, as well as her demonstrated excellence as a leader and administrator within peer graduate and undergraduate visual art programs, is exactly what the Yale School of Art needs as MFA programs across the nation address the necessary shift in the climate of future art education.”

Pinder is indeed the first woman of color. More pointedly, she succeeds a line of 12 deans who were all white men, most recently Robert Storr. Kuzma disrupted the legacy as the first woman. Pinder is the first-ever leader of the school who is a person of color and she is the first Black person.

“These are all quite surprising and unfortunate, as firsts well into this century; I am eager to press on and return to where I started to join the many other change agents there,” Pinder told Culture Type by email.

Previous coverage about Kymberly Pinder’s appointment has emphasized that she is the first woman of color named dean of the Yale School of Art. More pointedly, Pinder is the first-ever leader of the school who is a person of color and she is the first Black person.

PINDER IS AN INTERNATIONALLY recognized scholar of race, representation, and religion in American art and the history of murals with nearly three decades of experience in higher education. She began serving as acting president of MassArt in June 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She joined MassArt in Boston as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs in 2019, a role in which she led the undergraduate and graduate academic programs. She also oversaw the school’s Bakalar & Paine Galleries and the grand opening of the MassArt Art Museum in February 2020.

In prior years, she was dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, from 2012 to 2018, responsible for the state’s largest fine arts program. Her tenure at UNM including a stint as interim director and curator of the UNM Art Museum, from 2014 to 2016. Earlier, she established her academic career at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She began serving on the art history faculty in 1996 and rose to chair of SAIC’s Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism (2007-10).

Over the course of her career, Pinder has maintained her curatorial credentials. She co-curated with Karen Fiss (a fellow Yale alum), “Necessary Force: Art of the Police State” (2015) at the University of New Mexico Art Museum, a prescient exploration confronting a topic that has only become more urgent in the ensuing years. She also organized “Spreading the Gospel: Graffiti and the Public Space as Canvas” (2016) at UNM’s CFA Downtown Studio, a professional exhibition space Pinder helped to established working with Albuquerque officials.

Her lasting influences are seen within classrooms and academic institutions and in the communities that surround them. Announcing her appointment, Slovey noted that Pinder’s scholarship has been adopted widely in art history curricula nationwide and encouraged new avenues of inquiry in her field and her exhibitions addressing contemporary social issues have provided forums for community dialogue.

Working with a variety of artists and city officials, Pinder has taught courses that have resulted in collaborative murals projects in Chicago and Albuquerque. She has also helped introduce arts coursework in local public schools. In 2002, Pinder edited “Race-ing Art History: Critical Readings in Race and Art History,” a highly regarded volume that has fostered multidisciplinary studies focused on the role of race in art.

Kymberly Pinder’s lasting influences are seen within classrooms and academic institutions and in the communities that surround them.

PINDER RECEIVED a bachelor of arts degree in art history from Middlebury College in Vermont and went on to earn multiple art history degrees from Yale: master of arts, master of philosophy, and doctor of philosophy (1995). As a doctoral student, she lectured and published on European gothic architecture, religious imagery, medievalism in North America, and women and African Americans in art. Under the mentorship of several professors, including Robert Farris Thompson, she also studied for formation and representation of American identity.

Some of the nation’s most critically recognized artists graduated from the Yale School of Art. Among them, many Black artists active today earned MFAs from Yale, including Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Jordan Casteel, Dawoud Bey, Awol Erizku, Aaron Fowler, Genevieve Gaignard, Lauren Halsey, Titus Kaphar, Wangechi Mutu, Jennifer Packer, Christina Quarles, Martin Puryear, Tschabalala Self, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, and William T. Williams.

An 11-member advisory committee conducted the search that resulted in Pinder being selected dean. Martin Kersels, professor of sculpture and director of graduate studies at the School of Art, chaired the search committee. Members included Courtney J. Martin, director of the Yale Center for British Art; and artist Meleko Mokgosi, associate professor painting/printmaking and co-director of graduate studies in painting/printmaking.

Given the challenges of the past year, Pinder emphasizes that now more than ever it is critical that leaders be responsive and sensitive to the climate and the experiences of those for whom they are responsible.

“I feel that all of my past positions have paved a path towards being a dean at Yale—and more importantly, a Black dean at the School of Art at Yale,” Pinder told Culture Type. “Anyone joining a new organization this fall must focus on listening and healing. The effects of living through multiple pandemics, with so much disruption and loss, must be acknowledged and addressed so we can clear space to move ahead together. I know our students will be finding their way out of this year through making and I look forward to the School providing all that they need to do so.” CT


FIND MORE about “Necessary Force: Art of the Police State” in a brief video Q&A with Kymberly Pinder and a reported review about the UNM exhibition


FIND MORE In confirming to Culture Type that prior to Kymberly Pinder’s appointment no person of color had ever served as dean of the School of Art, a Yale spokesman noted that the university’s first dean of color was theater director Lloyd Richards (1919-2006), who was Black and headed the School of Drama, from 1979-91


Kymberly Pinder is the author of “Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago.” She also edited the influential volume “Race-ing Art History: Critical Essays in Race and Art History.” Pinder also contributed to “Dox Thrash: An African-American Master Printmaker Rediscovered,” part of the Jacob Lawrence Series on American Artists from the University of Washington Press.


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