Naima J. Keith has made a name for herself within the museum sector as the deputy director and chief curator at the California African American Museum (CAAM) and previously as a curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Soon, though, Keith will call the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) home as its new vice president of education and public programmes.
Keith, who is from LA, will begin her new post on the first of April, and, if she stays true to form, will hit the ground running. In just three short years at CAAM, Keith helped significantly transform the museum into a go-to travel destination increasing annual attendance from 55,000 in 2015 to over 100,000 in 2018. She also played a large role in the evolution of CAAM’s collection while at the institution. In 2016, works by artists like Gary Simmons, Yinka Shonibare, Kianga Ford, and Albert Chong were gifted to the museum by collector Eileen Harris Norton, co-founder of Art + Practice. Just a year ago, the museum received another donation from LA collector, scholar, and artist advocate Gordon W. Bailey of 32 paintings, sculptures, and mixed media artworks.
‘I was brought into CAAM, in a lot of ways, to really rethink the exhibition programming and bring new audiences to the museum and work with George [Davis, executive director of CAAM] to reinvigorate the museum,’ Keith told the Los Angeles Times. ‘And I do feel like I’ve been able to make some in-roads in doing that.’ However, concerning her upcoming move, Keith stated: ‘It’s a great time of change for LACMA, and I’m really excited to be a part of it.’
During her time at CAAM, Keith organized a number of major installations and exhibition that set the CAAM apart from others including ‘Fade to Black’ by Simmons, ‘Refuge’ by Shinique Smith, ‘Smell the Roses’ by Genevieve Gaignard, and ‘We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.’ Of the latter, Keith said the show ‘[w]as an opportunity for CAAM to enter into a national dialogue about artists working at this time, and for us to assert the importance of the West Coast in a lot of these artists’ careers.’
As she moves to the LACMA, Keith will have the opportunity to be more involved with their education and public programmes continuing work similar to what she has done at the CMMA. Keith ‘brings a wealth of experience in engaging a broad range of audiences from her curatorial and educational projects and initiatives. We value our ongoing collaborations with CAAM, including our partnership in hosting concurrent exhibitions related to Charles White this season,’ said LACMA director Michael Govan.
It is clear, though, that Keith, who Davis referred to as ‘fantastic,’ will be missed at the CMMA. He continued: ‘She changed the museum from one catering to people over 50 and not that relevant outside of the African American community — and even within some parts of the African American community.’ It is also clear that whoever comes in after her will have big shoes to fill. The CMMA has yet to announce a new deputy directory but Davis says the museum will begin the search as soon as possible.