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Black Tie International:
The American Federation of Arts
Alice Walton and Wangechi Mutu. Photo: © Kelly Taub/
Alice Walton and Wangechi Mutu. Photo: © Kelly Taub/
On November 1, with over 240 guests present at The Metropolitan Club in New York, the 2016 American Federation of Arts Cultural Leadership Awards were presented to Alice Walton, art collector, patron, and founder of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Wangechi Mutu, artist, activist, and founder of Africa’s Out.

Pauline Willis, director of the 
American Federation of Arts (AFA) began the event by emphasizing the importance of the organization and the exhibitions it develops, which span a wide range of mediums, cultures, and historical periods. She highlighted some of the many upcoming exhibitions that will be presented across the nation and internationally. They include contemporary indigenous art, work by women artists in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century, Latin American artists in Paris between the two World Wars, works from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Scotland, masterworks of Asian Art from the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, and works by African American artists from the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, among others.

Brian Ferriso, Director and Chief Curator of the Portland Art Museum and President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), spoke about the importance of the organization, referencing its beginnings in 1909 when President Taft, President Roosevelt, and Secretary of State Root called for the creation of an “agency that would send exhibitions of original works of art on tour to the hinterlands of the United States.” Ferriso reflected that “In a world where the humanities and the life of the mind are continually being questioned, the ‘hinterland’ is not only the Midwest and the West, but also New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and the many enclaves within our cities and communities where the value of the arts is questioned. (…) I believe the mission of the AFA has never been more important and its ability and success in bringing more art to all of our ‘hinterlands’ is needed now more than ever.”

Dr. Deborah Willis, Professor and Curator, New York University, Tisch, presented the award to Wangechi Mutu. Upon her acceptance, Ms. Mutu stated: “I’m honored to be here tonight to receive this award because my work as an artist is critically intertwined with who I am. It is through art that I am able to express my existence, individually and publicly, speak up and say things that are important to me and hopefully to others. (...) I strive to articulate through art,
 my hopes for a fairer and kinder world, for a more equal place for women in particular, and for greater humanity towards those who suffer simply for being born who they are, with their ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion.”

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented the award to Alice Walton. During her acceptance speech, Ms. Walton noted: “I am a firm believer in the mission of this organization. The AFA is dedicated to making sure people everywhere have access to great works of art. It is a dedication based on the belief that art matters. That art transforms lives. Crystal Bridges was founded with this same mission, this same sense of dedication and belief; belief in the power of art to educate, to engage, to inspire, and to improve our quality of life. And the belief that art should be for everyone, not just for those in big cities with easy access to it, but for those of us in small towns like Bentonville, Arkansas and in cities big and small throughout the world.”

The American Federation of Arts bestows these awards annually to individuals who have distinguished themselves through their unique contributions to the arts and cultural community. Past recipients include: Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz (2015), Arnold Lehman(2015), Spencer Finch (2014), Eugene V. Thaw (2013), Kehinde Wiley (2013), Sarah Sze(2012), Marina Abramović (2011), Frank O. Gehry (2007), Shirin Neshat (2004), Maya Lin(2002), and Ellsworth Kelly (2001).
The American Federation of Arts is the leader in traveling exhibitions internationally. A nonprofit organization founded in 1909, the AFA is dedicated to enriching the public’s experience and understanding of the visual arts through organizing and touring art exhibitions for presentation in museums around the world, publishing exhibition catalogues featuring important scholarly research, and developing educational programs.


Gerard Mc Keon and Joyce Brooks.  Photo by:  Rose Billings/

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