Johnnetta Cole Named Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art

February 9, 2009
News Release
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Johnnetta Cole has been named director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, effective March 2.

Cole is the board chair of the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute, founded at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. The mission of the nonprofit institute is to create, communicate and continuously support the case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace through education, training, research and publications.

“We are delighted that a scholar, author, educator and leader of such international stature will lead the National Museum of African Art at this opportune time,” said Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “I have known Johnnetta for many years, and I look forward to working with her in her new role and in finding opportunities to use her talents to help with pan-Institutional activities.”

“It will be a privilege and a joy to work with the board, the staff and all stakeholders of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art,” said Cole. “Serving as the director of this museum will bring together my passion for African Art, respect for an anthropological knowledge of the people and cultures of the African continent and my involvement in the world of education.”

Cole served as president of the Bennett College for Women (2002-2007) where she completed a $50 million campaign, opened an art gallery and initiated programs in Africana women’s studies and global studies. Before that, she served as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies and African American Studies (1998-2001) at Emory University in Atlanta. In 2002, she served as co-curator of the exhibition “Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity” at the Carlos Museum at Emory.

Cole was president of Spelman College in Atlanta (1987-1997) where her appointment generated a $20 million gift from Bill and Camille Cosby. In addition, she completed a $113 million capital campaign. Under her leadership, Spelman College was named the number-one ranked liberal arts college in the South.

Cole has served on the Scholarly Advisory Board of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture since its inception, and she has worked with a number of Smithsonian programs since the mid-1980s.

Cole has conducted research in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States and has authored several books and scores of scholarly articles. She has been awarded 54 honorary degrees from colleges and universities, including Princeton, Yale, Fisk, Smith and Columbia, and won numerous awards. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Anthropological Association, having delivered its distinguished lecture in 2008. She served on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Committee on Transformational Diplomacy and on President Bill Clinton’s Transition Team for Education, Labor, the Arts and Humanities, and has served as the Chair of the United Way of America.

Cole earned a doctorate degree (1967) and a master’s degree (1959) in anthropology from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree (1957) in sociology from Oberlin College in Ohio.

Cole succeeds Sharon Patton, who resigned as director of the museum in January. Christine Kreamer, who has been serving as acting director in the interim, will resume her curatorial duties for the museum.

National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of traditional and contemporary African art. Founded as a small museum on Capitol Hill in 1964, it became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1979, and in 1987 it moved to its current location on the National Mall.

The museum has 34 staff members and its fiscal year 2008 budget was $6 million. The museum’s collection of 9,000 objects represents nearly every area of the continent of Africa and contains a variety of media and art forms—textiles, photography, sculpture, pottery, painting and jewelry and video art—dating from ancient to contemporary times. In 2007, the museum opened the exhibition “African Vision: The Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection,” which features 80 superb artworks from one of the world’s finest and most respected collections of African art. In 2002, the museum unveiled a major interior redesign of its entrance pavilion. The entrance conveys the power and significance of African art and culture using multimedia presentations, African-inspired design elements, and some of the world’s finest examples of traditional and contemporary art.

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