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$5 million gift from Leon Levy Foundation to endow Brooklyn Museum Director's position
Arnold Lehman, Shelby White, Stephanie Ingrassia, John S. Tamagni Photo: ©Jonathan Dorado.

BROOKLYN, NY.- The Leon Levy Foundation, led by Founding Trustee Shelby White, has made a leadership gift of $5 million to the Brooklyn Museum to endow the position of Director. It is the largest endowment gift to the Museum from a non-trustee donor and the largest gift from a foundation in more than a decade. The inaugural position of The Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum will be held by Arnold L. Lehman, who has been Director since 1997.

Announcing the gift, the Chair of the Brooklyn Museum’s Board, John S. Tamagni, said, “On behalf of the Board and the Museum staff, I wish to thank Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation for this exceptional gift, which is an important step in securing the financial future of the Brooklyn Museum. Reflecting her passion for art, Shelby White’s her enduring support for the Museum and, indeed, for Brooklyn, exemplifies the ideal of philanthropic leadership.”

“I grew up in Brooklyn, and remember taking class trips to the Museum to look at the Egyptian collection,” said Ms. White. “I didn’t realize, until much later, that it was one of the greatest museums in the world. The Leon Levy Foundation is proud to support the Brooklyn Museum and help ensure its future.”

The Brooklyn Museum is one of the largest art museums in the United States, with comprehensive collections that range from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary works, representing nearly every culture. It serves one of the most diverse audiences of any art museum in the country as a dynamic and innovative center for learning through the visual arts.

The Museum has developed a broadly based schedule of special exhibitions, from scholarly to popular- culture offerings, encompassing those created by Brooklyn Museum curators as well as touring shows organized elsewhere. It has recently launched its spring season with four critically acclaimed exhibitions with the common theme of activism. They include Ai Weiwei: According to What?, presenting the work by the provocative Chinese conceptual artist and activist; Chicago in L. A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work, 1963-74, an exhibition of minimalist art that paved the way for the iconic feminist masterwork The Dinner Party, a part of the Museum’s permanent collection; Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, honoring artists’ participation in the struggle for racial justice; and Swoon: Submerged Motherlands, a site-specific installation addressing environmental issues and created by a renowned Brooklyn street artist.

In recent years all of the Museum’s permanent collection galleries have been reinstalled in a way that allows visitors to experience the works of art more directly. The Museum has also significantly increased its support of the borough’s own creative community through both an active acquisitions campaign and a program of exhibitions by Brooklyn-based artists.

As a part of its commitment to the visitor’s experience and to community engagement, the Museum presents public programs and events that address the diversity of the collection, the exhibitions, and the community, as well as award-winning exhibition catalogues. At the same time, ongoing major capital projects have greatly enhanced the physical accessibility of the Museum and the presentation of its collections: an inviting new entrance was created on Eastern Parkway; the formerly underutilized front plaza has been reclaimed as a welcoming public space; air conditioning and climate control are being improved or introduced in galleries and public spaces; and a major reconfiguration of the first and second floors is under way, to be completed within the next two years.

On holding the inaugural position Dr. Lehman commented, “I am honored and delighted to be the first The Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum and am immensely grateful to Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation for this extraordinary leadership gift, which will have an enduring impact on the work of directors to come. This gift is a critical component in our efforts to strengthen our endowment and secure the future of the Brooklyn Museum.”

Prior to joining the Brooklyn Museum in 1997, Dr. Lehman (Ph.D, M.Phil., Yale University) was Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art for almost two decades, and Adjunct Professor of the History of Art at Johns Hopkins University. He has served as the President of the Association of Art Museum Directors and is for the second time the Chair of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG) of New York City. Dr. Lehman will receive an honorary degree this May from Pratt Institute for his local and national leadership in the museum field.

The Leon Levy Foundation, founded in 2004, is a private, not-for-profit foundation created from the estate of Leon Levy, an investor with a longstanding commitment to philanthropy. The Foundation’s overarching goal is to support scholarship at the highest level, ultimately advancing knowledge and improving the lives of individuals and society at large.

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