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31 Aug 2023

American Folk Art Museum to Host Fall Benefit Gala; Honorees Announced

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(New York, New York) – The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) will host a benefit gala on Friday, October 27, 2023, at The Lighthouse at Pier 61, Chelsea Piers. The event will honor Joyce B. Cowin in memory of her husband, Daniel Cowin, The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, and Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw for their achievements in art, culture, and scholarship. Proceeds from the gala will support the Museum’s mission to educate and inspire audiences of all ages through inclusive programs, exhibitions, and internships. For tickets and more information, please visit:

“We are thrilled to celebrate this important group of scholars, collectors, and folk-art enthusiasts,” said Elizabeth V. Warren, AFAM Board President and Gala Co-Chair. “Each has contributed an extraordinary effort to create a more inclusive art world – both in the United States and abroad.” 

“The Museum is proud to honor those who align with our mission and have paved the way for a deeper understanding of folk and self-taught artists across time and place,” added Jason T. Busch, the Museum’s Becky and Bob Alexander Director & CEO. 

Joyce B. Cowin commented: “For over five decades my family and I have supported the American Folk Art Museum, and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the Museum’s Daniel Cowin gallery, inaugurated in honor of my late husband. I am delighted to celebrate another year of AFAM as a leading voice in the folk art community.”

About Joyce B. Cowin and Daniel Cowin

Joyce B. Cowin has served on the Board of Trustees of the American Folk Art Museum since 1992 and has the distinction of being the largest financial benefactor in the Museum’s history. She is a founding member of the Museum’s Legacy Society. She is a Smith College alumna and earned her MA in Curriculum and Teaching from the Teachers College at Columbia University. She chaired the Teachers College Alumni Council and has served on the Board of Trustees for over 30 years. Ms. Cowin is the founding donor of the Teachers College-affiliated Heritage School, an arts-themed public high school in East Harlem, has actively supported Manhattanville College, and founded the Cowin Financial Literacy Program through the Teachers College. She has served for many years as a Trustee of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, as well as on the Board of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Ms. Cowin has a longstanding involvement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Historical Society, where she founded the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery.

Joyce’s passion for folk art was shared with her late husband, Daniel Cowin. Mr. Cowin, an investment banker and real-estate executive, served on the boards of 26 corporations. He was a founding director of Continental Telephone, which merged into G.T.E. At his death, Mr. Cowin was the managing director of Dome Capital Corporation, a trustee of New Plan Realty Trust and a director of Christiana Companies and Cantel Industries. Mr. Cowin was a noted collector of Art Deco, American folk art and 1930’s photography. In 1972, Mr. Cowin was elected to the Museum’s board, where he served until he passed away in 1992. Together, the Cowin family has the distinction of supporting AFAM for a longer period than any other patrons. In 1993, the Museum inaugurated the Daniel Cowin gallery in honor of the Cowin family’s generous and steadfast contributions.

About The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation

William Louis-Dreyfus (1932-2016) was a poet, businessman and committed art collector whose collection represents over 50 years of discovery and dedication. He sought works by self-taught and emerging artists with as much interest as he sought mainstream artists, collecting in depth from artists he valued throughout their careers. Drawn to American artists such as James Castle, Thornton Dial, Nellie Mae Rowe, Bill Traylor and Purvis Young, Louis-Dreyfus championed them not because they were so-called outsiders or self-taught but for the inherent merit he saw in their work. He presciently predicted that these artists would come to be seen as American masters and not simply as outsiders, as indeed they are seen today.

Passionate about improving the lives and opportunities of the disenfranchised, William Louis-Dreyfus believed that education is key to correcting social injustice and breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Impressed by the mission and effectiveness of the Harlem Children’s Zone, he established The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation in 2013 with the long-term vision of funding the HCZ with funds acquired from the sales of his art collection. The Foundation is fulfilling this mission with annual donations that contribute to HCZ’s successful educational and community services. Located in museum-quality space in Mount Kisco, New York, the Foundation serves as an educational resource through its exhibitions, loans of artwork to museums nationally and internationally and its public programs. The Foundation is open to the public by appointment. More information can be found at its website:

As Julia Louis-Dreyfus has said: “My father was never shy about what he believed in, and, more than anything, he believed in art and justice. That he found this way to marry those two beliefs was a sweet miracle for him.”

About Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw

Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw is an art historian, curator, and Class of 1940 Bicentennial Term Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Shaw is an expert in art and visual culture of the 19th and 20th centuries in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean, with a focus on issues of race, gender, and class. In 2019-20, she served as Senior Historian and Director of History, Research, and Scholarly Programs at the National Portrait Gallery. She is the author of Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker, First Ladies of the United States, and The Art of Remembering: Essays on African American Art and History, to be published next spring. She co-curated the landmark 2015 Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit Represent: 200 Years of African American Art and has curated major exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, Addison Gallery of American Art, and Montclair Art Museum.

Dr. Shaw has contributed a foreword to the American Folk Art Museum’s forthcoming publication Unnamed Figures: Black Presence And Absence in the Early American North, which will coincide with the exhibition opening in November, 2023. 

About the American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum engages people of all backgrounds through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the leading forum shaping the understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught art across time and place.