Art historian Susan Cahan believes there have been improvements made in diversifying galleries and museums.
Still, she sees a need for more variety.
“The current challenge is to diversify the leadership of cultural institutions: curators, directors, and boards of trustees,” Cahan said.
After a long, drawn out search that started in September, Cahan was appointed the next dean of the Tyler School of Art in May.
Cahan has served as the associate dean and dean for the arts for Yale College, Yale University’s undergraduate liberal arts college, since 2009. She will officially move into her new office at Tyler on July 1.
“Tyler’s reputation is stellar,” Cahan said. “And when I heard about the opportunity, I jumped.”
Cahan’s role as dean will not be her first interaction with Tyler faculty. While at Yale, she oversaw the creation of “Rise,” a vibrantly colored geometric mural painted by Tyler professor Odili Donald Odita. It was the first work by a Black artist to be displayed in a public space at Yale.
“I believe with the addition of Susan, a dawn of a new era has begun, a seismic change within the Tyler school,” said Robert Blackson, director of the school’s exhibitions and public programs department.
“She does not just look at one perspective, but multiple perspectives at once, as she tries to really understand what goes on within society,” Blackson said.
In October 2016, Cahan visited Temple Contemporary to discuss her book, “Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power.” The work documents Black artists’ struggle for representation in the elite art scene of 1960s New York City.
Cahan said she began studying art and the Black Power movement because she thought it was crucial to view history through a diverse lens.
“I felt it was important to capture the stories of our elders,” Cahan said.
Throughout Cahan’s career, she has taught about art and multiculturalism. Before her time at Yale, she worked as a professor at Bard College and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, teaching classes that focused on African-American art and the politics of exhibition and museum display.
After years spent teaching in college and university settings, Cahan was selected as the new dean of Tyler, where about a third of the student body are people of color.
Cahan said she plans to engage Temple’s surrounding area.
“Tyler’s engagement with Philadelphia, one of the world’s most vibrant arts centers—especially its engagement with the North Philadelphia community—puts the school in a unique position of strength,” Cahan said.
“I look forward to experiencing the power of this relationship firsthand,” she added.
Asher Young, a 2017 Yale alumnus, studied as a computing and the arts major while Cahan served as dean. Young said Cahan spent time interacting with and listening to her students.
Under Cahan’s guidance, Young was able to propose and accomplish Lux, an exhibition that used light projections to showcase the work of Yale’s artistic designers. All student work and research was projected onto Yale’s Beinecke Library.
“Dean Cahan is always excited to talk to people about their ideas and perspectives,” Young said. “In my experience, she engages students thoughtfully and helps them strive toward their full artistic potential.”
Aaron Ball can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.