Art museum

Jenenne Whitfield selected to be the new director of the American Visionary Art Museum

Jenenne Whitfield, new director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Photo credit: AVAM.

Jenenne Whitfield, president and CEO of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, will succeed Rebecca Alban Hoffberger as director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

The AVAM board of directors announced on Wednesday that Whitfield will take up his new role in September. She will be only the second director in the history of the national museum and educational center, which is dedicated to showcasing “intuitive, self-taught art and thought.”

Hoffberger, who co-founded the museum with her late husband LeRoy and served as its director and chief curator since it opened in 1995, announced last July that she planned to retire this spring. Her last day as full-time director will be April 3, but she plans to stay part-time to ease the transition.

Whitfield, 60, has worked with the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art environment, for 28 years and has served as its president and CEO since 2017. Under her leadership, he has achieved international notoriety.

In addition to his work with the Heidelberg Project, Whitfield regularly lectures, has taught courses at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan on art as social practice, and serves as a mentor to the next generation of art thinkers and activists. She is also a co-founder of a new art collective in Detroit called United Artists of Detroit (UAD).

Whitfield, who is black, will be the latest of a growing contingent of African Americans to hold leadership positions in Baltimore-based arts and culture organizations. Others include the new head of Creative Alliance and the new chairs of the Walters Art Museum and, starting this summer, the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“We are so proud and thrilled to have attracted as new director such a dedicated and credentialed artistic leader as Jenenne Whitfield to now lead the American Visionary Art Museum forward and build on the founding director’s indelible legacy. Rebecca Hoffberger,” said AVAM Board Chair. Christophe Goelet, in a press release.

“Jenenne’s long tenure with the Heidelberg Project, one of our nation’s most respected mission-driven arts enterprises, is a testament to her commitment to animating local communities and giving voice to the concerns of our time through an original and inspired artistic expression, also at the heart of AVAM’s mission,” added Goelet.

Hoffberger is confident the museum she co-founded nearly three decades ago will be in good hands with Whitfield at the helm.

“From idea to sustained realization, the American Visionary Art Museum has occupied more than half of my life. Without reservation, and with the unanimous agreement of the AVAM Board and staff, I have the greatest peace and joy in our rightful selection of Jenenne Whitfield as my successor,” Hoffberger said.

“Put simply, Jenenne had her own stellar life of preparation to lead AVAM,” Hoffberger said. “She cherishes and ‘gets’ all the key elements that have made AVAM such a beloved healing and magical destination. Our peers at London’s Raw Vision magazine and several national foundations have also taken action to uphold Jenenne’s integrity and ‘perfect fit’. His personal passion for visionary art, metaphysics, justice and science mirrors mine. From the moment we met, I felt a load lifted and a great relief descend. She is our ‘one’.

Whitfield said she was excited about AVAM’s emphasis on the connection between humanity and art.

“I am beyond thrilled to be part of the AVAM family,” Whitfield said in a statement.

“What excites me the most is that the philosophy and visual aesthetic of AVAM aligns perfectly with what it means to be human and what we should strive for as a human race. Rebecca has done a job extraordinary at embracing, advancing and providing a place where the intuitive creative mind can flourish and grow. I look forward to building on its strong foundation by increasing AVAM’s visibility, creating greater alliances and taking AVAM to the next level.”

Whitfield said in a video message that she and Hoffberger “are like sisters”, united by a common goal of “bringing the work of visionaries to life”.

“We have so much in us as untapped people, so we want to build on that and that’s what my work is going to do when I come to the American Visionary Art Museum,” Whitfield said.

She added that as director, she plans to broaden the diversity of AVAM’s audience, build partnerships and raise funds for the museum.

Ed Gunts