Longtime Art Collector and Marketing Executive Dennis Gardner In November, she will become president of the Art Institute of Chicago, perhaps the first black woman in the country to hold that position on a major museum board.
“It’s hard to avoid historical significance,” Gardner said in a telephone interview on Monday. “That’s why there is a sense of responsibility and pressure for success, and that’s fine with me. I like to exceed expectations. “
Gardner, Robert M., 66 years old. Will succeed Levi – whose term expires in November – at the institute’s school as well as the museum.
Having worked for 15 years as a trustee and for five in his current role as Vice Chair, Gardner has created access to black artists as well as art to an underrated audience. “The work is still incomplete,” Gardner said. “In this role, I can help the museum accelerate its progress.”
The appointment comes at a time when cultural institutions are trying to diversify their staff, boards and programming. Gardner is also on the steering committee Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museum, Founded last fall to help bring more Black trustees, artists and curators to the museum.
The museum’s director, James Rondu, said in a phone interview on Monday, “A leader with his credibility is just what we need right now to take us into the future.” Given the arts institution’s ongoing commitment to diversity, she said, “The experience and outlook she brings as a black woman who is connected to the city of Chicago will only be an asset.”
Gardner – along with her husband, Gary – were the principal personal sponsors of the museum’s 2018 exhibition, “Charles White: A Retrospective, “Who traveled to the Museum of Modern Art. (Three white works on Gardner paper.)
Her collection focuses on Black and female artists including Frank Bowling, Nick Kew and Carrie Mae Weems. She was an early buyer Amy sharld, Whose popularity has risen since his official portrait of Michelle Obama, which hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.
“I want people of color to know the history and power and contribution of their own people to the visual arts,” Gardner said. He said, “As a youth, I did not do anything in my education.” I remember as an adult when I learned about Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence and I was almost annoyed – why didn’t I know about these artists? “
Gardner was a co-founder of Insights & Opportunities, Namaste Laboratories, a marketing and strategic planning firm and beauty producer.
She previously served on the boards of the Chicago Community Trust, the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Humanities Festival, and the Arts Club of Chicago and Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, Which supports conservation and small arts organizations.
Gardner said she was brought to the Art Institute nearly 27 years ago as a volunteer by Zeta Jones, the museum’s first black female trustee, who died last weekend at 95. “I hope she knows what’s going on and I think she would have been very happy.” “Gardner said. “This job could have been his.”