George W. and Kathleen I. Gibbs Director and CEO, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
Photograph by laird
Welcome to Jacksonville and to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. You served as the director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia, for nearly 20 years before coming to Jacksonville. As you take the helm at the Cummer, what are your first plans?
My first plans are to gain a greater understanding of the people who make up the various communities in this vibrant city. As you can imagine, this involves asking key questions and doing a lot of listening. The highly capable museum staff as well as the board, under the leadership of Pam D. Paul, chair, have stewarded the museum with such a steady hand and have enthusiastically partnered to jumpstart my orientation to the museum. I am eager to spend time with long-standing donors and patrons of the museum and ask what has kept them engaged with and passionate about this institution—with its emphasis on art, education, and gardens—for many years. Additionally, I can’t wait to connect with other arts leaders in Jacksonville and anticipate working closely with them to continue to increase and heighten cultural offerings in the city.
Since I believe that the museum offers something for absolutely everyone, I am equally as interested in connecting with people who have not historically been engaged with the museum to find out why. Too few African Americans and other Black and Brown people in Jacksonville have made the museum a regular destination. Working in partnership with various stakeholders, I am on a mission to learn more and also ensure that everyone—even those who have historically been omitted from conversations—know that they have an open invitation to enjoy all that the museum has to offer. This type of omission, which is evident throughout the country, is a long-standing trend that needs to be reversed, and I am ambitious enough to believe that the Cummer Museum can serve as a national model and lead the way.
With Atlanta being so close, do you plan to maintain any professional ties that link these two southern cities?
Absolutely! Atlanta is an exceptional city and my colleagues at cultural institutions there firmly believe that art, in general, and museums, in particular, are the source of beauty, creativity, contemplation, and refuge. I value the formidable relationships that I have forged with other arts leaders there. Our commitment to working together is stronger than ever.
You have described your membership with the Association of Art Museum Directors as shaping your international perspective on issues-driven museum leadership. How would you describe issues-driven leadership in action and how does it integrate with your vision for the Cummer?
My involvement with the Association of Art Museum Directors has given me first-hand opportunities to regularly connect with a network of professional peers who are linked by our commitment to making museums both safe and relevant 21st-century institutions. I am guided by best practices and industry standards. Additionally, as an issues-driven leader, I am committed to working in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, colleagues, and partners to ensure that museums serve the communities within which they are located. As we as a society grapple with a host of interrelated challenges including civil unrest, violence, and historic inequities, issues-driven leadership is more critical than ever.