The mission of the DuSable Museum of African American History is to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions, and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs, and activities that illustrate African and African American history, culture and art. To help accomplish these goals, the museum has named Leslie Guy as its new chief curator.
“I’m delighted to welcome Leslie to the DuSable and to Chicago,” said Perri Irmer, DuSable Museum President and CEO. “Leslie’s dynamic and innovative approach to the arts is perfectly aligned with my forward-looking and collaborative vision for the DuSable. She comes to DuSable with respect for this institution and what it means to the community and committed to advancing our mission. We’re looking forward to great things.”
Guy became the first African American woman in the U.S. to earn a master’s in science degree in art conservation in 1995. Her career has included stints as a private consultant on conservation treatments for exhibits and private collectors. The bulk has been spent overseeing museum collections, exhibits and education and community engagement. She piloted a school-based arts education program in Philadelphia targeting low-income students and was lauded for cultivating a culture of inclusion at the museum. She recruited community residents to be a part of a team she led to develop a strategic plan to raise the museum’s visibility, resulting in higher attendance and donations.
But Guy’s greatest passion is curation, an interest that grew from an awareness of the politics involved in preservation.
“I was troubled by the lack of African American representation in collections and the lack of resources dedicated to the preservation of African American artifacts,” Guy said.
Guy describes her approach to curating exhibits as “hyperlocal” but global in scope, outreach and viewpoint. She tends toward exhibitions that relate back to contemporary themes. In her previous role, she curated shows such as Badass Art Man, featuring the artwork and collection of Danny Simmons, brother of Russell Simmons and one of the most important collectors of African American art in the country, and the work of sculptor Syd Carpenter, which reflects African Americans’ historic relationship to the land, the disappearance of black family farms, and ways in which people are continuing the tradition of farming in the 21st century.
Guy comes to DuSable at an exciting time for the community landmark. Last fall, DuSable partnered with the Holocaust Museum in Skokie to present the play “Anne & Emmett” and will again in February for the exclusive Chicago Work In Progress Screening of Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, a documentary about 18 African American Olympians at the Berlin 1936 Games. In February during Black History Month, DuSable will introduce an interactive, audio/visual exhibit in the story corps tradition to capture the oral histories of black families.
“Museums should be interactive, a place where the public can participate and truly engage,” Guy said. “I also want to have a deeper connection with the community and want people to feel welcome to come in and share their stories and to feel like DuSable is their home. I don’t want people to have a passive experience.”