Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

The Amazing Black Woman Behind Some Of The Biggest Black Art Exhibits In America

May 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.”

Deep River (2013). © Whitfield Lovell. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York, and American Federation of Arts.

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.

Related articles:

The Era of Afrofuturism

The Era of Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is a cultural trend that has gained popularity in recent decades. It is a future vision based on Black people's experiences, traditions, and ambitions. Read More » 

Japanese-Ghanaian Artist Toshiko Tanaka Shares How a Multicultural Identity Has Shaped her Work

Japanese-Ghanaian Artist Toshiko Tanaka Shares How a Multicultural Identity Has Shaped her Work

We speak to Japanese-Ghanaian artist Toshiko Tanaka to learn about her journey, insight and inspiration as biracial artist in Ghana and America. Read More » 

PAFA Exhibition in the Era of DEI

PAFA Exhibition in the Era of DEI

In Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) founded in 1805, has unveiled a 103-piece exhibition entitled, Making American Artists. Read More » 


Top 5 Black Contemporary Artists Who Are Making a Cultural Difference

Every form of art has established rules and borders around its genres in the creative spectrum, but contemporary artists have shattered those borders and redefined the meaning of art. Read More » 


 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

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. 

Read more from Boitumelo Masihleho: 

Best Black Country Singers Of All Time

Best Black Country Singers Of All Time

Here are the 11 famous Black country singers to add to your music streaming platforms. Read More » 


10 Black-Owned Sneaker Brands To Obsess Over

10 Black-Owned Sneaker Brands To Obsess Over

The global sneaker market was valued at approximately $79 billion in 2020 and is predicted to reach $120 billion by 2026. Read More » 


Eight Barbies Made After Famous and Inspiring Black Women

Imagine being a young Black girl and getting the chance to wake up to your favorite Black female icons. Read More »