CMA Stories

Remembering Barbara Hunt McLanahan (1964-2019)

Children’s Museum of the Arts is deeply saddened by the loss of its Executive Director Barbara Hunt McLanahan, who passed away on June 25, 2019, after a hard-fought battle with cancer. She was 55 years old. Appointed to the position of Executive Director in February 2013, Barbara was a driving force in the museum’s programmatic growth and its move to the current 10,000-sq-ft state-of-the-art facility in SoHo. Most recently, Barbara conceived of and championed the museum’s 30th anniversary CIVICKIDS: Make Art. Make A Difference, a year-long series of exhibitions, community events, and digital art calls that foster civic engagement and shared community pride through artmaking. 

Barbara dedicated her career to nurturing and showcasing artists through her wide-ranging accomplishments as a curator and arts administrator on both sides of the Atlantic. Her position as the Executive Director at CMA reflected her steadfast belief in the transformative power of art and commitment to making art accessible to all. As she stated in a 2016 interview, “Side-by-side, non-judgmental art making encourages the celebration of individual identity, alongside empathy and respect for difference, for others who look different and who express themselves differently.”

Barbara consistently fought for equal access to arts education, particularly for children from underserved communities, such as those in foster care, on the Autism spectrum, those living in transitional housing, and children with physical disabilities. Barbara will be remembered by all who knew her for her off-the-charts energy, personal warmth, contagious laugh, and rigor in fundraising and advocating for the arts.

William Floyd, President of the Board of Directors at CMA, states, “Barbara was a remarkable leader, truly a force of nature: dynamic, brilliant, passionate and above all deeply devoted to her family, of which she considered CMA to be a part — and we, her. She has left an indelible mark that can be seen in every aspect of the museum.”

Barbara is survived by her husband, Michael, and daughter, Jade. The Barbara Hunt McLanahan Memorial Fund at CMA, initiated by her family, will support the Arts for All Initiative, a program for children with disabilities. A memorial will be held in September.

Born in Manchester in 1964, Barbara began her career in the UK, working at Camerawork Gallery + Darkroom in London (1992–96) before moving to New York in 1997. She worked first at Visual AIDS (1997–2000), and later served much-admired tenures at Artists Space (Executive Director, 2000–13) and Judd Foundation (Executive Director, 2006–13), before joining the CMA in 2013. Throughout her career, she made time to volunteer and shared her time and expertise with countless organizations and individuals. She sat on the boards of the African and Asian Visual Arts Archive (AAVAA), Leisure Services Committee for the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the UK, and the Satellite Academy’s Arts Benefit All Coalition Alternative (ABACA). She also participated in Godzilla, a coalition of Asian-American artists and curators. Barbara joined the board of the Jerome Foundation in Minneapolis in 2007 and later assumed the role of Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Carmago Foundation in Cassis, France in 2017. As a panelist and lecturer at museums, conferences, and universities all over the U.S. and the UK, she spoke consistently about strategies for emerging artists, promoted diversity and inclusion in the arts, and championed less commercial paths, such as artist-run alternative spaces. For her many achievements, she was named Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Republic of France in 2006.

Donate to The Barbara Hunt McLanahan Memorial Fund

Read Barbara’s obituary in the New York Times

Photo by Renée Riccardo

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