Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, a nationally-recognized curator and art historian, began her role as director and chief executive officer of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens Dec. 1.
Relocating from Atlanta, Brownlee served as Spelman College Museum’s first full-time director, a position she held for 19 years. There, she launched the Atlanta University Center of Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective, a ground-breaking educational program focused on cultivating African American art history and curatorial professionals.
Her innovative work in leadership and curation won her many accolades throughout her career, most notably, the David C. Driskell Prize, the first national award to recognize and celebrate individuals who make original and important contributions to the visual arts and study of African American art. Brownlee graduated from Spelman College with degrees in English and art history and earned her Ph.D. in art history from Duke University.
Brownlee first came to the Cummer in 2019 for “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman,” an exhibition celebrating the life and work of the Harlem Renaissance artist. She was particularly interested as her own work focuses on contemporary art by and about women of the African diaspora. During her visit, Brownlee was similarly captivated by the museum’s permanent collection which tapped into her fondness for the span of visual culture.
“It’s a magnificent collection,” she said. “Every time I go, I see something different. One of the most exciting things on my horizon is to spend time with that exceptional collection.”
A year and a half after her initial experience at the Augusta Savage show, she was selected as the Cummer’s new CEO and director following a national search—and much consideration on her end (it is, after all, 2020). She began to transition into her new role in October.
“When I came onboard, it was very clear to me that it was exciting and dynamic and the right professional move at the right time,” she said. As a huge proponent of milestones, legacy and future-proofing, Brownlee was particularly thrilled about the opportunity to help celebrate The Cummer’s 60th anniversary in 2021, not only its history but also its aspirations.
“Building upon Cummer history is a privilege,” she added. “It’s something that I take very seriously.”
Under Brownlee’s inspired direction, the Cummer will focus on new acquisitions, exhibitions and experiences in its riverfront gardens. Visitors and the community at large can expect to learn a great deal from her remarkable perspective.
“You bring your whole self to work, you bring your whole self to everything that you do,” she said. “As an African American woman, I bring a scope that is enlivening and perhaps broadening to other people’s perspectives. It’s a wonderful time to bring additional voices into the field.”