Native Brooklynite Dr. Elizabeth A. Sackler is chairman of The Brooklyn Museum, the first woman in the museum’s near 200-year history to serve in this role.
Philanthropist, art collector, public historian and activist, Dr. Sackler is also founder of the Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art Center, which aims to raise awareness and educate future generations about feminism’s impact on culture.
Dr. Sackler is also the founder and president of the American Indian Ritual Object Repatriation Foundation; CEO of The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, which lends objects from its collections of Chinese antiquities to museums and institutions; and she is published in scholarly journals, books, and magazines; and lectures on a variety of topics – from ethics in the art market to cultural genocide, to gender and art.
On her Twitter account (@sacklersoapbox), she describes herself as “Agitator, Advocate, Ally.”
The Brooklyn Reader sat down with Dr. Sackler very recently to get an inside peek into the heart and mind of the woman who now leads one of the most preeminent and progressive cultural institutions in the country.
The Brooklyn Reader: What is your outlook on Brooklyn the borough, past-present-and-future?
Elizabeth Sackler: Well, my parents and grandparents lived in Bklyn. And my children have all lived in Brooklyn. So I’ve known Brooklyn for a long while. I think, as is true with all of the boroughs, Brooklyn has seen peaks and valleys. And obviously as we all know right now, Brooklyn is a very hot spot.
…And it’s not just about young people moving in; it’s the Nets, BAM and the way Prospect Park is now used; the restaurants that have sprung up; the art scene in Williamsburg and Bushwick, and not to mention the fact that our mayor and the first family are Brooklynites.
So it’s an exciting time. I think, also, as I look at the neighborhoods, it’s true that there’s been a gentrification. But it also feels as if there’s been a very nice cohesiveness occurring amongst the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are more gentle toward one another than they used to be.
BR: Museums are the purveyors of culture. What are some of the images, events or people that impacted you most as a child, as far as shaping your outlook on culture today?
ES: My father Arthur Sackler was a great collector of Chinese antiquities, and he and my mother were both history lovers. So I was taken to many museums and traveled a lot as a child. So I was imbued with art from a very young age. And because my parents were collectors, I was surrounded by wonderful art all the time. It was part of my DNA– very much a part of my soul and system from the beginning.
BR: Brooklyn Museum has fast emerged as one of the most progressive museums in the country, as far as its programming. As the first woman in the near 200-year history of the Museum to serve as its board chairman, how do you think it will impact the programming—if at all?
ES: As you noted, the programming is already really solid. The education division has done excellent work, the Arty-Facts and available programming in all of the division… the Asian, African, Native-American departments are very very strong in the museum; we have truly an encyclopedic museum.
All of our collections and departments that house antiquities and cultural and world heritage have ongoing tours and lectures as well. So I don’t think it’s going to change. I hope it will continue and be enhanced.
The progressive aspect of the museum comes in full force with the Sackler Center where we’ve been programming for 8 years, which has been extremely progressive because it deals with contemporary and education issues and looks at everything from art, to culture, to social issues and political issues.
BR: What would you like to see more of as far as engagement at the museum—either through programming or by those who come to visit?
ES: Well, we already have a wonderful demographic of visitors of all ages and all backgrounds. I think with Brooklyn being the hot-spot that it is right now, we’re beautiful positioned as the “grand dame” of Brooklyn.
The exhibitions over the last 2-3 years—from the Gaultier exhibit, to the Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties exhibit, to Ai Weiwei and Judy Chicago, we have brought crowds in from all over the country, all over the world. Right now, I see the Brooklyn Museum as a rocket that’s on the launch pad.
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