The Art Institute of Chicago on Tuesday elected Chicago philanthropist and art collector Denise Gardner as its next board chair, beginning in November.
A 15-year trustee of the museum, Gardner will be the first African-American and first woman leader of the governing body for the museum and the School of the Art Institute. It is believed that she will be the first Black woman to head the board of a major U.S. art museum, although such demographics are hard to come by.
“I knew I was the first at the Art Institute. I didn’t know I was the first in the nation. Wow,” said the beauty products entrepreneur, 66. “I feel a little extra pressure to succeed. But I don’t have a problem with that. I welcome that. And I enjoy exceeding people’s expectations.”
“I’m looking forward to helping the museum move forward to becoming even more of a dynamic and leading cultural gathering place and institution in the city.”
Gardner has been a vice chair on the board for the past five years and was a clear choice as his successor, said Robert M. Levy, the current board chair.
“She’s been so active with the museum and the school for many years so we knew how good she was and how committed to who we are,” Levy said. “She has exactly the right resume, which is business experience, involvement with the school, substantial involvement with the museum and art. She and her husband, Gary, are noted collectors.”
For her part, Gardner was quick to praise women who have served on boards before her, particularly Jetta Jones, the Art Institute’s first Black woman trustee. Serving from 1995 to 2006, Jones, who died Friday in Los Angeles at age 95, brought Gardner into contact and then deep involvement with the museum, Gardner said.
“I learned so much from watching her, watching how she managed progress and change at the board level at the Art Institute,” Gardner said. “And so I think about her and people like her. She certainly could have been chair.”