Give Denise Gardner a round of applause!
According to Because Of Them We Can, Gardner has just been named to the head of the Art Institute of Chicago’s advisory board, where she will advocate for Black artists, art access, and education for underrepresented audiences.
Gardner isn’t just making Art Institute of Chicago history with her appointment. She’s making museum history with her appointment, as she’s the first-ever Black woman to sit at the head of a board for an American museum.
“I want people of color to know the history and the power and the contribution of their own people in the visual arts. That’s not something I enjoyed in my education as a young person. I remember as an adult when I learned about Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, and I was almost a little angry – why didn’t I know about these artists,” she said about her appointment.
Gardner got her start in the industry 30 years ago, when she began as an intern at the Art Institute of Chicago. She was discovered for the position by Jetta Jones, who was the Art Institute of Chicago’s first Black trustee (Jones recently passed away at the age of 95).
From there, Gardner became an art collector. She was one of the first women to collect the works of Amy Sherald — best known as the official portrait artist of First Lady Michelle Obama. Gardner also was an early champion of Black and woman artists like Frank Bowling, Nick Cave, and Carrie Mae Weems.
“A leader with her credentials is exactly what we need right now to take us into the future. The experiences and the perspectives that she brings as a Black woman who is so connected to the city of Chicago will only be an asset,” said James Rondeau, the museum’s director, about Gardner’s appointment.