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Black women are shattering glass ceilings in the art world. According to the Chicago Tribune, Denise Gardner was recently appointed to serve at the helm of The Art Institute of Chicago’s board; making her the first Black woman to assume the position in the institution’s 142-year history.

Gardner—an entrepreneur and philanthropist with a strong passion for art—has deep ties to the renowned museum. Nearly three decades ago, she started serving as a volunteer at the Art Institute of Chicago. After developing an affinity for the creative expression of artists, she began to amass a large collection of work created by Black women and used her platform to amplify their artistry.

Gardner, who has been vice chair of the institution’s board for the past five years, says as she steps into this new role, she wants to ensure that art is accessible to all; especially for groups of people who don’t often see themselves reflected in the space. She also wants to put the focus on continuing to solidify the Art Institute of Chicago as a cultural pillar in the city of Chicago and beyond. “I really want people of all ages and backgrounds to feel welcome at the museum, at home at the museum, and that they belong there and that there’s something there for them,” she said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “I’m looking forward to helping the museum move forward to becoming even more of a dynamic and leading cultural gathering place and institution in the city.” Gardner credits the late Jetta Jones—the first Black woman to serve as a trustee for the Art Institute—for paving the way so that she could have a seat at the table.

Gardner’s appointment comes at a time when there is a major need for diversity in art leadership. According to Artsy, a mere 5.2 percent of board members at art institutions are Black.


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