The director of the National Museum of African Art, 80-year-old Johnetta B. Cole, will be retiring from her post in March 2017, after working at the museum for 8 years, according to Washington Post reports.
“Johnnetta is known across the Smithsonian for her spirit of collaboration, collegiality and passion for the arts,” secretary David J. Skorton wrote in a staff memo announcing her retirement. “Throughout her tenure, she has worked with her colleagues to raise the profile of the African Art Museum as the nation’s premier museum focusing on the visual arts of Africa.”
Cole had received a backlash after displaying works from the private collection of the Cosby collection during an event called “Conversations” in 2014. Unfortunately, the opening of the event had coincided with the rape allegations involving Bill Cosby. Johnetta said that she had not known of these allegations at the time when the event was organized.
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She also decided to keep the exhibition open, and defended this decision in a statement saying: “It is my responsibility as the museum’s director to defend the rights of the artists in “Conversations” to have their works seen. It is also my responsibility to defend the rights of the public to see these works of art, which have the power to inspire through the compelling stories they tell of the struggles and the triumphs of African American people,” so as to point out that art is for the sake of the art, not for the sake of glorifying the artist.
Cole has had a long and successful career in both academia and in museum management. She was a professor for decades, then hired to be the president of Spelman College, became a professor again and later became the president of Bennett College in North Caroline.
She was also a member of the scholarly advisory council of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors.