About Us: President-elect

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About Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell

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Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell has been a leader in education, the arts and the public sector for nearly 40 years. Early in her career, she led the Studio Museum in Harlem at a time when the city of New York was on the verge of bankruptcy and Harlem was in physical decline. Under her leadership, the museum was transformed from a rented loft into the country’s first accredited Black fine arts museum with a permanent collection, major publications, exhibitions and artists-in-residence programs. She personally curated a number of groundbreaking exhibitions, wrote catalogue essays for world-renowned artists and organized group exhibitions, all of which became regarded as landmarks in the literature on Black art and American culture. When she departed in 1987, Dr. Campbell was widely recognized as a lynchpin in the economic revitalization of the 125th street corridor in Harlem and a major visual arts center.

In 1987, the late Mayor Edward I. Koch invited Dr. Campbell to serve as the city’s cultural affairs commissioner. As commissioner, Dr. Campbell was responsible for New York City cultural policy, as well as the capital and operational development of major city cultural institutions. She quickly gained a reputation as an indefatigable advocate for the arts in New York. When she left city government, the New York Times praised Dr. Campbell observing that she made her department heard by “seeing that it served the full range of New Yorkers, and was especially successful in bringing minority artists into mainstream public programs” (August 11, 1991).

After four years of public service, Dr. Campbell returned to the private sector becoming dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the fall of 1991. In her over two decades as dean, Tisch vaulted to the top echelon of university art schools as Dr. Campbell infused it with her own intellectualdaring and entrepreneurial spirit: inventing new fields of study, fostering collaboration across disciplines, increasing the diversity of both the faculty and the student body, and lowering financial barriers to a Tisch education for the most talented students in the world.

Of particular note is Dr. Campbell’s leadership in expanding the Tisch School’s world-renowned new media division and Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), as well as the establishment of a multi-school Game Design Department at NYU’s new Multi-School Game Center (MAGNET). Under her leadership, the school experienced an increase in the minority student population by nearly 200 percent and faculty diversity increased almost tenfold. During that same period, Tisch experienced dramatic improvements in the average GPA and SAT scores of incoming freshman and in the retention rates of its continuing students. In the process, Tisch became one of the most selective schools at NYU. And Dr. Campbell’s deep administrative experience is evidenced in the successful renovation of nearly 75 percent of Tisch School’s instructional space during her tenure.

In September of 2009, Dr. Campbell was appointed by President Barack Obama as the vice chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, a non-partisan advisory committee to the president of the United States on cultural matters. In her role as vice chair, Dr. Campbell has taken an active role in re-affirming the arts as one of the ingredients essential to effective public school education.  

While a graduate student at Syracuse University, Dr. Campbell was a co-founder of the Community Folk Art Gallery in Syracuse, New York (now the Community Folk Art Center and a formal part of Syracuse University); a regular contributor to the Syracuse New Times; and assistant curator at the Everson Museum of Art, where she curated her first exhibition, “Mysteries: Women in the Art of Romare Bearden” in the fall of 1975.

Currently, Dr. Campbell is dean emerita of Tisch School of the Arts and University Professor in the Department of Art and Public Policy. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and sits on the board of The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. A former member of the New York Shakespeare Festival, Dr. Campbell also served for 12 years on the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College. She holds honorary degrees from The College of New Rochelle, Colgate University, City University of New York, Pace University, Maryland Institute College of Art and Swarthmore College and is the recipient of a number of awards and honors. She lectures widely around the country and around the world and has authored many papers and articles on a range of subjects including African-American art, urban cultural policy issues, leadership and arts in education.

She is co-editor of Artistic Citizenship: A Public Voice for the Arts (New York: Routledge, 2006) and co-author of Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987) and Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden, 1940-1987 (New York: Oxford University Press & The Studio Museum in Harlem, 1991). She is completing a book on Romare Bearden for Oxford University Press.

Dr. Campbell received a B.A. degree in English literature from Swarthmore College, an M.A. in art history from Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. in Humanities, also from Syracuse. She is the mother of three sons, the grandmother of six grandchildren, and the spouse of Dr. George Campbell, Jr., president emeritus of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. 

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"I am delighted by the selection of Dr. Campbell as the 10th president of Spelman College. Dr. Campbell has an extraordinary profile with the experience, energy, and passion that matches what the Spelman community identified as important to lead our college into the next chapter.” -- Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Ph.D., C’96, Vice Chair, Spelman College Board of Trustees, Chair, Presidential Search Committee 

"Spelman College could not have made a more outstanding choice than Mary Schmidt Campbell to be its next president. She is an institution-builder, and she draws the best out of everyone around her." -- John Sexton, President, New York University 
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