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14 Apr 2020

Encompassing America: Identity, Immigration, and Museums (Postponed)

What does it mean to be defined as American in the context of art museums today? Please join us for an evening discussion centered around this question with Professor Mae Ngai, an expert in US immigration history at Columbia University, and Dr. Sylvia Yount, curator in charge of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They will present on how immigration has shaped our national identity and the implications for museums as they expand who is included in their American Art installations. Leslie Hayes, director of education at the New-York Historical Society, will moderate the discussion.


Leslie Hayes is the director of education at the New-York Historical Society, where she provides administrative oversight for the Education Division and contributes to several of the Division’s special projects, including Women & the American Story and the Citizenship Project. She also oversees the Historical Society’s partnership with the New York City Department of Education and developed lessons for the new citywide Civics for All initiative. Hayes has more than thirteen years of experience in the museum education and program management field, with previous positions at the South Street Seaport Museum and Brooklyn Public Library. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in History and English at Penn State University, an M.Phil. in History at Cambridge University, and a Masters in Public Administration at New York University.

Mae M. Ngai, Lung Family professor of Asian American studies and professor of history at Columbia University, is a US legal and political historian interested in questions of immigration, citizenship, and nationalism. She is author of the award-winning books Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton University Press, 2004) and The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Ngai has written on immigration history and policy for The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and The Boston Review. Before becoming a historian, she was a labor-union organizer and educator in New York City, working for District 65-UAW and the Consortium for Worker Education. She is now writing The Chinese Question (under contract with WW Norton), a study of Chinese gold miners and racial politics in nineteenth-century California, Australia, and South Africa; and Nation of Immigrants: A Short History of an Idea (under contract with Princeton University Press).

Sylvia Yount is the Lawrence A. Fleischman curator in charge of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she is responsible for the administrative and curatorial oversight of the department of historical African American, Euro American, Latin American, and Native American art, from the colonial period to the early-twentieth century. Before moving to the Met, she served as chief curator and the Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane curator of American art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Margaret and Terry Stent curator of American art and department head at the High Museum of Art. She began her curatorial career at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, America’s oldest art school and museum. In addition to completing pivotal collection reinstallations at her former institutions, Yount has organized major exhibitions (with accompanying catalogues) on Cecilia Beaux, Maxfield Parrish, and American modernism, among other topics focused on women and artists of color in regional and national contexts. She is currently working as cocurator on exhibitions of Jacob Lawrence, the late nineteenth-century New York art world, and Winslow Homer. Yount lectures and publishes widely on late nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art and culture, as well as on issues of curatorial responsibility and museum practice.


Images: American Heritage; Ralph Fasanella (1914–1997); New York City; 1974; oil on canvas; 50 x 80 in.; Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift of Eva Fasanella and her children, Gina Mostrando and Marc Fasanella. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

Freedom Quilt; Jessie B. Telfair (1913–1986); Parrott, Georgia; 1983; cotton, with pencil; 74 x 68 in.; Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift of Judith Alexander in loving memory of her sister, Rebecca Alexander. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

6:30 pm–8:00 pm

$8 students, members, artist, seniors; $10 general public

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