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Human Rights Forum CCNY: The Role of Culturally Specific Museums in the Discourse of Human Rights

The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Thursday, February 20, 2014 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM (EST)

Human Rights Forum CCNY: The Role of Culturally...

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“Bearing Witness: The Role of Culturally Specific Museums in the Public Discourse on Human Rights,” with Kinshasha Holman Conwill – Deputy Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture and John Haworth, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, moderated by Cheryl Sterling, Director of Black Studies at the The City College of New York (CUNY)

What are the responsibilities of museums dedicated to culturally specific groups to focus their exhibitions and collections on bearing witness to the human oppression of these groups? How can such museums effectively extend an understanding of human rights by documenting their abuse? This conversation addresses the important role museums are increasingly playing with regard to human rights. 


Kinshasha Holman Conwill has more than 35 years of experience in arts and museum management. Since 2005, she has served as Deputy Director of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Smithsonian Institution’s nineteenth and newest museum, scheduled to open in 2015. In this position, Ms. Conwill is engaged in fulfilling the museum’s vision by cultivating fundraising and membership campaign efforts, fostering external partnerships, expanding the museum’s collection, developing exhibitions and public programs, supervising building design and construction and administering the museum’s daily operations.

After serving as executive producer of the museum’s 2012 groundbreaking ceremony, a nationally televised event featuring remarks by President Barack Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush, she is leading the planning for the museum’s grand opening activities scheduled for the winter of 2015. A widely published author, she also is supervising the museum’s publishing activities, serving as lead editor for projects ranging from exhibition catalogues to books on the museum’s collections.

An arts, museum, and management consultant, her projects included serving as a senior policy advisor for the Museums & Community Initiative of the American Association of Museums and project director for the New York City Creative Communities Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) program. From 1988 to 1999 she was Director of The Studio Museum in Harlem after joining the Museum in 1980 as Deputy Director. She also has served as Assistant Exhibit Coordinator for the Museum of the American Indian in New York City, worked as Coordinator of Activities for the Frank Lloyd Wright Hollyhock House, and taught art in the Los Angeles Unified School District. From 1970 to 1980, she was a practicing visual and performance artist.

A current member of the board of Washington D.C.’s Provisions Library, Ms. Conwill is a former board member of the American Association of Museums, the Municipal Art Society of New York, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. She participates on panels, serves as a juror for public art projects and exhibitions, acts as a reviewer on various award committees, collaborates with scholastic and cultural organizations and programs and writes on art, museums and cultural policy. Among other roles, she has served as a panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts and on advisory and grant committees for the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation.

A native of Atlanta, Georgia, she attended Mount Holyoke College as a National Achievement Scholar, graduated magna cum laude from Howard University with a B.F.A. and received an M.B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles.


John Haworth is director of the National Museum of the American Indian’s branch in New York, a position he has held since 1995. In 2009, he received the Outstanding Community Service Award from the American Indian Community House in NY, and honored as Indian of the Year by the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers. He has collaborated with Native communities on a broad range of public programs and special projects.  Under his leadership, the NMAI has collaborated with the National Book Foundation, Poets House, Pace University, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others. He is a member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation National Leadership Council.
In spring 2011, Haworth spoke at the RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia) Symposium Transformation in Cultural Communication. He presented papers at Native American Indigenous Studies Association conferences in 2011 and 2012 (and invited again for 2013). The MuCEM (Museum of Civilizations from Europe and the Mediterranean) published his essay about museums and collaboration in their 2012 anthology. He has written an essay for the publication Robert Davidson: Abstract Impulse, an exhibition jointly developed by the Seattle Art Museum and NMAI.  His essay about photographer Horace Poolaw will be published in 2014.  
In 2010, he was invited to speak at a UNESCO conference in Paris. In 2005, he was invited by the State Department to Moscow to speak at an International Council of Museums conference, and at universities and museums throughout Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 1997, he was selected by the Smithsonian to give a series of lectures marking their 150th Anniversary as part of the Voices of Discovery program in Portland, Oregon. He has been a featured speaker and panelists at many statewide, regional and national arts conferences, and has written extensively on cultural and museum issues over the years, including articles for NMAI publications. He wrote the foreword for Painting the Wild Frontier: the Art and Adventures of George Catlin, Susanna Reich’s book published by Clarion Books, New York. 
Prior to his post at the Museum, he served as assistant commissioner for Cultural Institutions at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and was on the Arts Education faculty teaching arts management and cultural policy courses for 14 years at New York University. He holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University, where he was also designated as a Revson Fellow on the Future of New York City in 1979. John Haworth currently serves on the Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts and the Museum Association of New York. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.


Dr. Cheryl Sterling has at B.A. in Political Science from Fordham University, a MPhil in African Literature and Sociology from the University of Ghana, Legon, and Ph.D. in African Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.   Her research extends from West Africa to the Caribbean and Brazil. Her book, African Roots, Brazilian Rites: Cultural and National Identity (Palgrave MacMillan 2012), historicizes the Afro-Brazilian diaspora and challenges the nation’s concepts of racial harmony, by looking at the African-based religious tradition of Candomblé, carnival presentations, plays, poetry, and hip-hop.
Dr. Sterling is also a Fulbright Scholar and a recipient of numerous grants including the Organization of American States fellowship. She has published numerous critical essays in noted journals and edited volumes. She is currently the Director for Black Studies at The City College, City University of New York.


Have questions about Human Rights Forum CCNY: The Role of Culturally Specific Museums in the Discourse of Human Rights? Contact The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

When & Where

City College of New York
Shepard Hall, Rm. 250,
160 Convent Avenue (at 139th Street)
New York, NY 10031

Thursday, February 20, 2014 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM (EST)

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The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

The mission of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership is to transform students, faculty, communities, and the traditional university experience by adopting problem-based approaches to education. By promoting the values of service, engagement, and leadership, we enable our students to energetically address the challenges of the 21st century. By fostering creative and public scholarship, we ensure that our faculty produces and disseminates scholarship that is both relevant and in-touch. 

The school, located in historic Harlem at The City College of New York, addresses pressing global issues such as expanding rights and democracy, community stability and health, economic growth and national wealth creation and promoting education and the general betterment of those in need. The school focuses its research and teaching activities on fostering solutions that further, equality, prosperity, stability, and peace for the whole people—in Harlem, in New York, and around the globe. 
Specifically, the school:
•provides rigorous degree programs that integrate service, leadership training, and mentoring into the curriculum, ensuring that students engage with real-world challenges and develop the capacity, drive, and public spirit to serve as responsible leaders and stewards of the common good;
•maintains and supports a faculty dedicated to the highest standards of research and to the university’s democratic and public obligations, including the responsibility to disseminate research in usable forms to concerned audiences, particularly to those striving to redress injustice or disparity;
•serves as a forum for experts, policymakers, community leaders, and others dealing with the major challenges of our time in ways that dismantle traditional barriers between the academic world, proximate communities, and the broader public.

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