The Amazing Black Woman Behind Some Of The Biggest Black Art Exhibits In AmericaMay 22, 2023 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Image Credit: Patrick McMullan /PMC
Pauline Forlenza, Director of The American Federation of Arts (AFA) has been at the forefront of curating exhibits nationwide that highlight the work of Black artists and increase access to diverse audiences. As director and CEO of the AFA, a New York City-based nonprofit, she leads the team at an organization with a long-held mission to bring art to communities that may not necessarily have access to it through traveling exhibitions.
Under her leadership over the past decade, the AFA has increased its number of traveling exhibitions and the number of art exhibits devoted to Black artists of the African diaspora. She began her career in the financial sector after moving to the United States from Guyana. Forlenza has been the director of the AFA since 2012, serving as its deputy director and chief operating officer. She said she came into the position when the industry sought diverse voices leading institutions.
She created a curatorial research travel program that has created new collaborations with museums in Europe, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. She led a project to foster connections and explore opportunities for cultural exchange and collaboration with museums in China. Forlenza began ArtViews, a panel discussion series addressing issues pertinent to museum and arts organizations.
Under Forlenza’s leadership, the AFA has administered the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, which confers thirty $20,000 grants bi-annually to artists selected by experts for their talent and individual artistic strength. Willis holds an M.A. in Public Administration from Baruch College, City University of New York.
The AFA is touring two HBCU art collections, the African Modernism in America from Fisk University in Tennessee and Art and Activism at Tugaloo College in Mississippi. African Modernism in America is the first major traveling exhibition to examine the complex connections between modern African artists and American patrons, artists, and cultural organizations amid the interlocking histories of civil rights, decolonization, and the Cold War.
Forlenza is also the woman behind the landmark exhibition Whitfield Lovell: Passages in South Florida at the Boca Raton Museum of Art this month. It is the largest exhibition ever presented of Lovell’s work that focuses on lost African American history and raises universal questions about America’s collective heritage.
“These installations create a profound immersive experience that enables visitors to become participants in, not just observers of, the experience of these ancestors who were lost to time,” said Forlenza to Queer Forty. “Together, these works convey passages between bondage, freedom, and socioeconomic independence, promoting a deeper connection with African American histories through art.”
Earlier this year, due to Forlenza’s efforts, the Picasso Landscape exhibition at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina, sold out in its opening weekend. “You have two artists, an African-American artist and a European artist, like Picasso, in conversation with each other,” Forlenza explained in an interview with WCNC about showcasing the art of Charlotte’s own Romare Bearden in the same space as Pablo Picasso.
With more than two decades of experience in the field, Forlenza advises other Black women in the arts or those that want to work in the space to be bold and not afraid of being uncomfortable to create change.
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She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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