PICTURED ABOVE: Dr. Kheli Willetts
This past Thursday, September 8, the board of the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) welcomed their new CEO, Dr. Kheli Willetts, to the Greater Houston area at a Board Reception at their facility.
Before coming to HMAAC, Dr. Willetts served for over 14 years as a professor of African American Studies, and as the Executive Director of the Community Folk Art Center at Syracuse University. She has participated in several of HMAAC’s programs, including most recently speaking at the museum this past January about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead this dynamic institution, one that under the leadership of John Guess, Jr. has actively participated and led discussions on the major cultural trends of our time,” said Dr. Willetts. “This museum has had an extraordinary impact across the country as well as Houston in just six years. With the team I am joining, I expect the museum’s dynamism to continue.”
John Guess, Jr., who has been at the helm of HMAAC since its inception, will continue on with the museum as development director through March to complete several national-level grant applications.
“I am so excited about Dr. Willetts coming aboard to lead our staff, and I look forward with great pride for HMAAC’s future. She understands the importance of culture for under-served communities and the pursuit of our mission,” said Guess. “What began as an idea and a call to action from Mayor Lee P. Brown is now an established institution moving on to a next level of excellence. I’m thankful for the hard work that our current and historical board members have put in these past few years to bring Houston alongside the rest of the country by making tangible an African American museum we can all be proud of.”
Dr. Willetts received her undergraduate and graduate education from Syracuse University. In addition to her advanced degrees, she studied metalsmithing at Syracuse.
“Kheli is a talent we are thrilled to have join us,” said Board President Gina Carroll. “We know her from her participation in HMAAC’s New York symposium, from her lecturing at HMAAC, from her visits with board members and staff, and from her reputation in the national cultural community. On all accounts, we found her to be outstanding.”
Joining HMAAC Board members at the reception were Museum District Directors and Staff and representatives from HMAAC’s collaborative community partners through which the museum impacts children, adults and seniors in venues across the city. Amongst those in attendance were new staff additions, Jessika Davidson, Marketing Director; Jasmine Jones, who manages the Film Programs; Davinia Reed, Office Manager/Executive Assistant; COO TaShon Thomas; and longtime staff members Dominic Clay, who becomes the museum’s Acting Curator and Charles Hunter, Technical, Facilities and Rental Manager. They really represent the move for HMAAC toward accreditation and to a next level of national prominence.
HMAAC currently attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world to the museum and even though they are open only four days per week, they are still on track to bring in some 30,000 visitors or more in the future. They have many upcoming events to help with that goal.
On Friday, September 16, HMAAC presents their first Eat. Drink. Art. mixer that will take place at the museum, located on 4807 Caroline, from 6 pm-10 pm. This fun, diverse art and culture mixer will give Houstonians an exclusive first look at the new Building Bridges Over Rising Waters: The art of Post-Katrina New Orleans exhibit before it opens. Guests will also be introduced to HMAAC’s new CEO, Dr. Willetts, while engaging with and exploring the museums latest artwork and learning about HMAAC’s upcoming programs. Thanks to an anonymous donor, Eat. Drink. Art. guests will be able to enjoy complimentary lite bites and wine, with the opportunity to purchase goods from local area small businesses and artisans. Vibes will be provided by DJ Auditory.
Beginning September 17th, HMAAC opens two fall exhibits – Building Bridges Over Rising Waters: The art of Post Katrina New Orleans and Now and Forever: The Journey Never Ends, featuring the work of Houston’s own renowned artist Floyd Newsum.
Curated by Jason LeBeau, in collaboration with HMAAC’s Acting Curator Dominic Clay, Bridging Bridges over Rising Waters: The art of Post Katrina New Orleans, is features works from artists spanning backgrounds and generations that explore the aesthetic expressions that came out of the physical breach of Hurricane Katrina. From large-scale paintings to handcrafted Mardi Gras Indian Suits, this exhibit projects the ever-expanding contemporary art inspired by the last decade of substantial transformation in New Orleans.
In addition to Building Bridges, internationally-renowned artist Floyd Newsum, and his thought provoking works in Now and Forever: The Journey Never Ends. Newsum, whose work has been most recently featured in a permanent exhibit in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture, has created work in a diversity of media for over 4 decades, including painting, drawing and sculpture.
Newsum’s artwork suggests that the symbolic interpretation of the audience has meaning within the fluid contexts of their lives; best understood as the moving forwardness of the journey that ultimately transitions but never ends.
“The works in both of these exhibits illustrate a diversity of expression and creativity that ranges from the literal to the existential,” said Willetts. “Building Bridges motivates you to reflect on Hurricane Katrina and its lasting impact on the communities as expressed by these artists. Floyd Newsom’s work invites us into his world though his use of color, line and shape. His paintings speak a visual language that is both familiar and other worldly, but always beautifully engaging.”
Both exhibits will be on view at HMAAC from September 17 through November 12.
These exhibitions are organized by Houston Museum of African American Culture and sponsored by HEB, Vinson and Elkins, Houston First Corporation and the Board of Directors of the Houston Museum of African American Culture.
On October 14, HMAAC will hold their Mission Accomplished Gala with Honorary Chairs, Houston City Council Members Amanda Edwards and Jack Christie and Chairs of the event being the HMAAC Board of Directors. The honorees of this years’ event will be Mayor Lee P. Brown, who will be receiving the HMAAC Visionary Award and Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, who will be flying back from their exhibition opening in Hong Kong to receive the Lee P. Brown National Cultural Achievement Award. The purpose of the gala is to establish an Operating Reserve for HMAAC. More exciting events are being planned for HMAAC so stay tuned.
For more information on HMAAC, please visit www.hmaac.org.