LINDA HARRISON IS LEAVING the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco to helm New Jersey’s largest museum. Last week, the Newark Museum named Harrison director and CEO.
“I’m thrilled to join the Newark Museum family to implement a bold transformation/agenda that lock steps with the City of Newark’s revitalization of the downtown district,” Harrison said in a statement. “The museum will be the city’s hub, where art, science, race, and culture will ignite compassionate conversations.”
“I’m thrilled to join the Newark Museum family to implement a bold transformation/agenda that lock steps with the City of Newark’s revitalization of the downtown district.” — Linda Harrison
The appointment is groundbreaking. Nearly 90 percent of art museum leaders (from director and chief curator to head of education or conservation) are white, according to a 2015 Mellon Foundation survey. People of African descent have helmed culturally specific American art museums—the Studio Museum in Harlem, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, among them. Few however, have led mainstream art museums. Harrison is keeping company with Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and Belinda Tate, executive director at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Harrison has served as director and chief executive of MoAD since 2013. Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum focuses on art and culture of the African diaspora. Prior to her tenure, Harrison had two decades of experience in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. She was a business owner in San Francisco, served as a vice president at Eastman Kodak, and was a Getty Foundation Executive Leadership Institute Fellow.
Under Harrison’s leadership, MoAD was re-designed doubling its gallery space. Notable art exhibitions included solo shows with David Adjaye, Todd Gray, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Alison Saar, and “Ease of Fiction,” a group presentation featuring four contemporary African artists living in the United States—ruby onyinyechi amanze, Duhirwe Rushemeza, Sherin Guirguis, and Meleko Mokgosi.
MoAD has a poet-in-residence program launched in December 2018. She also inaugurated a chef-in-residence program with scholar, author, and chef Bryant Terry. He hosts curated dinners at the museum and a variety of programs and conversations exploring the intersection of food, art, culture, and history.
HARRISON TOLD the New York Times she intends to bring some of the spirit and joy she instituted at MoAD to Newark. She is also prioritizing “inclusivity and openness to new ideas, new thoughts.” She said she hopes to expand the museum’s audience by re-engaging the Newark community and reaching out to the greater New Jersey and New York regions to attract visitors.
For decades, Newark has faced entrenched social and economic challenges, including poverty and segregated public schools. On some fronts, technology innovation among them, indications of a turnaround are afoot.
Commenting on Harrison’s appointment, Clifford Blanchard, co-chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, said she “is joining the museum during an incredible time of transformation for both the institution and the City of Newark.”
He continued: “We see all around us how the neighborhood is changing quickly to accommodate its renewed development and growth. With Linda at the helm, the Newark Museum will continue to grow in its role as both a cultural and community anchor.”
“With Linda at the helm, the Newark Museum will continue to grow in its role as both a cultural and community anchor.”
— Clifford Blanchard, Co-Chair of Newark Museum Board of Trustees
The Newark Museum, which boasts art and science collections and a planetarium, is celebrating its 110th year in 2019. Current exhibitions include the reinstallation of its Arts of Global Africa Collection. The expansive collection includes nearly 6,000 works spanning the 12th century BCE to the present. A selection of more than 50 historic and contemporary objects and artworks are on view.
More recent works on display include “Gateway,” a newly commissioned mural by Odili Donald Odita that frames the entrance to the exhibition; one of El Anatsui’s signature wall sculptures made with liquor bottle tops; and portrait photography by Seydou Keita and Samuel Fosso.
Also on view, “Party Time: Re-imagine America,” is a site-specific installation by Yinka Shonibare, commissioned in 2009 in celebration of the museum’s centennial anniversary. The work is displayed in Ballantine House, a private residence built in 1885 that is now part of the museum’s campus.
Last year, the Newark Museum was selected by the Ford Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to participate in an initiative aimed at diversifying curatorial staffing and management at art museums. Twenty U.S. museums received grants to support a variety of strategies including fellowships, mentoring and career-training programs designed to create a pipeline of talent in the sector. With its funds, the Newark Museum launched an “intensive three-year program for six undergraduate students from nearby colleges who represent populations that are not traditionally part of museum leadership.”
Training a diverse slate of next generation art museum leaders is critical to improving representation in the field. Hiring Harrison to direct the Newark Museum brings immediate change and tangible progress in the contemporary moment. She officially begins her new post in January 2019. CT
TOP IMAGE: Linda Harrison. | Photo by Adrian Octavius Walker, Courtesy Newark Museum
Published earlier this year, “Arts of Global Africa: The Newark Museum Collection” documents the reinstallation of the museum’s collection galleries. “Yinka Shonibare: Criminal Ornamentation” is forthcoming in November. The volume “challenges conceptions of ‘good taste,’ presenting works from the Arts Council Collection—from sculpture and painting to wallpaper and handbags—that provocatively oppose the anti-decorative stance of Adolf Loos’ 1908 Ornament and Crime. The most comprehensive volume documenting Yinka Shonibare’s work at the time of publication, “Yinka Shonibare MBE” was revised and expanded in 2014.
Current exhibitions at the Newark Museum include a reinstallation of its Arts of Global Africa Collection. The presentation features Yinka Shonibare’s “Lady Walking a Tightrope” (2006), shown at left.
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