DC Artswatch: NGA, NBM, NPG, Corcoran, ASC

First NGA Curator of African American Art

Kanitra Fletcher became the National Gallery of Art’s first curator of African American art — her title is associate curator of African American and Afro-Diasporic art — on Feb. 1. She was previously an associate curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and curator of video for the University of Texas at Austin’s public art program, Landmarks. Prior to completing her Ph.D. at Cornell in 2019, researching Black American avant-garde artists from the 1920s to the 1970s, she earned a B.A. at Rutgers and an M.A. in Latin American studies at the University of Texas.

New Head of National Building Museum

Following Chase Rynd’s 17-year tenure and a year with Brent Glass as interim head, Aileen Fuchs is now the National Building Museum’s president and executive director. The museum reopened in April after a closure for renovations extended by the pandemic. Former executive director of exhibits and programs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, Fuchs was president and CEO of Staten Island’s 83-acre Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden from 2017 to 2021. She has a B.A. from Muhlenberg College and an M.A. in public history from N.Y.U.

From NMAAHC to National Portrait Gallery

Rhea L. Combs, the film and photography curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she headed the museum’s Stafford Center for African American Media Arts, moved to the National Portrait Gallery this month to become director of curatorial affairs. She succeeded Brandon Brame Fortune, who retired after more than 30 years. Combs has a B.A. in communications from Howard, an M.A. in African American studies from Cornell and a Ph.D. from Emory, where she focused on African American cultural production, film history and gender.

New Director at GW’s Corcoran School

Lauren Onkey will become director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, part of George Washington University’s Columbian College, on July 12, succeeding interim director Kym Rice. A College of William & Mary alumna, she earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Most recently senior director at NPR Music, Onkey served as vice president of education and public programming at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and earlier taught popular music studies and postcolonial literature at Ball State University in Indiana.

McSweeny Exits American Shakespeare Center

Ethan McSweeny, who joined the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, as artistic director in 2018, resigned in February, four months after the board received a “Save the ASC” letter, signed by over 50 company members, detailing McSweeny’s alleged “abusive, manipulative, and dangerous behavior, actions, and speech.” One of several factors was his “SafeStart” plan to mount shows during the pandemic, opposed by Actors’ Equity. Now jointly leading ASC are actor-managers Brandon Carter, Christopher Johnston, John Harrell and Zoe Speas.


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