AFA ArtViews

2020 AFA ArtViews: Reconsidering Audience Engagement in Today’s Museums

ArtViews is a series of panel discussions that addresses critical issues impacting museums today.  Don’t miss this topical conversation from an esteemed panel of artworld leaders. 

Meaningful audience engagement is paramount for art museums. The process requires a collective effort across museum specialties to create a variety of ways for visitors to make personal connections with an institution’s collections, exhibitions, and programs.  Today, these conversations are as urgent as ever as we confront the COVID-19 pandemic, renewed calls for institutions to reckon with structural racism, systemic inequities, and the legacy of colonialism, as well as broader questions about the relationship of an art museum to its community.

This panel brought together museum directors from across the country to reexamine audience engagement as we enter a new decade.


  • Linda C. Harrison | CEO and Director, The Newark Museum of Art


  • Mark H.C. Bessire | Director, Portland Museum of Art, Maine
  • Franklin Sirmans | Director, Pérez Art Museum Miami
  • Julie Rodrigues Widholm | Director, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive


About the Panelists:

Linda C. Harrison

Linda Corliss Harrison was appointed eighth director and CEO of the Newark Museum of Art in January 2019.  The Museum is nationally recognized for its collections, architecture, and historic commitment to education and access.  She is the former director and CEO of the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco, where she expanded the museum’s mission, advocating for contemporary art through its artistic programming, making it an anchor arts institution in San Francisco.

Ms. Harrison is equipped with over 20 years of leadership experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sector, including senior leadership positions with Eastman Kodak Company, Business for Social Responsibility and Sotheby’s International. She is a Getty Leadership Institute Foundation Fellow.


Mark H.C. Bessire

Mark H.C. Bessire was named Judy and Leonard Lauder Director of the Portland Museum of Art in 2009. In this role, he oversees the museum’s curatorial and educational programming; the preservation and interpretation of the museum’s collection and campus; and the acquisition of new works of art. He has spearheaded initiatives to expand museum offerings, improve accessibility, enrich the lives of its diverse visitors, and widen the range of artists represented.

Recently, the PMA has further increased its commitment to broadening its audiences through Art for All, which included the opening of the free outdoors arts space the David E. Shaw and Family Sculpture Park and the debut of the Susie Konkel Pass, which provides free admission for everyone ages 21 and under. Prior to his role at the PMA, he was the Director of the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine. From 1998 to 2003, he also served as Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art.


Franklin Sirmans

Franklin Sirmans has been the director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) since fall 2015, where he has overseen the acquisition of more than a thousand works of art by donation or purchase. He has pursued his vision of PAMM as “the people’s museum,” representing a Miami lens, by strengthening existing affiliate groups such as the PAMM Fund for African American Art, and creating the International Women’s Committee and the Latin American and Latinx Art Fund.

Prior to his appointment at PAMM, he was the department head and curator of contemporary art at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from 2010 until 2015, and served as curator of modern and contemporary art at The Menil Collection in Houston from 2006 to 2010. Sirmans was the artistic director of Prospect.3 New Orleans (2012-2014); a former recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize, administered by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (2007); and a curatorial advisory committee member at MoMA/PS1 (2005-2006).


Julie Rodrigues Widholm

Julie Rodrigues Widholm is currently director of UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) where she leads the strategic and artistic vision to promote artistic dialogue, equity, and interdisciplinary teaching and learning in exhibitions, collections and programs. Prior to BAMPFA, she was director and chief curator at DePaul Art Museum (2015-2020), and a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (1999-2015).

During the last 20 years she has organized more than 100 solo and group exhibitions, and has authored or contributed to more than 25 publications.  In 2019, Rodrigues Widholm was named Chicagoan of the Year in Museums by the Chicago Tribune and was named one of Chicago’s ART50 Visual Vanguard by New City in 2015, 2017, and 2019. During the 2016-2017 academic year, she was a Senior Fellow in the Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. She has been an instructor, visiting critic, and graduate advisor at national universities and has given numerous public talks. She holds a BA in Art History and Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997) and an MA in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago (1999). She completed the Getty Leadership Institute certificate program at Claremont Graduate University in 2019.


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