The Bronx Museum of the Arts finds itself searching for a new director for the second time in just over two years. Longtime director Holly Block died in October 2017 after 11 years in the corner office; Deborah Cullen-Morales took the reins in June 2018, leaving her post as director of Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery.
Now, Cullen-Morales is out, to the surprise of the New York art world. “It was an 18-month contract,” Cullen-Morales told Artnet News by phone. The term of her contract was not publicized when the museum announced her hire.
“It was very challenging to step in after Holly, and there had been a gap, and it was difficult to follow in her footsteps, though I was honored to try to do so,” said Cullen-Morales. “I think the museum is now in a much stronger position. I think it’s ready for a new phase.”
Deputy Director Klaudio Rodriguez will serve as interim director.
“We are all deeply grateful for Deborah’s contributions to the Bronx Museum of the Arts,” said Joseph Mizzi, chair of the board of trustees, in a statement. “She led our museum with integrity and poise through a difficult and challenging transition following the tragic passing of Holly Block.”
The statement credits Cullen-Morales with helping to secure the final $3.9 million in capital funding needed for an upcoming renovation project, as well as supervising the opening of a new Tribeca incubator for the museum’s AIM professional training program for artists. She also oversaw several exhibitions, including two currently on view, each devoted to a beloved photographer: Alvin Baltrop, who focused on gay life along New York’s Hudson River Piers, and Henry Chalfant, who extensively documented the graffiti scene and hip-hop culture in New York in the 1970s and ‘80s.
Cullen-Morales brought a strong track record to the Bronx, having previously diversified the Wallach’s programming with exhibitions of artists from Latin America, the Caribbean, and of the African Diaspora. She launched the Uptown Triennial, an exhibition devoted to artists living north of Ninety-Ninth Street, which garnered praise from the New York Times. She also saw attendance increase sevenfold in her tenure there.
As for her departure from the Bronx Museum, whatever the circumstances, Cullen-Morales was determined to leave things on a high note. She says she’s departing to pursue independent projects. “I live in the Bronx and I love the Bronx and the rest of uptown,” Cullen-Morales said, “and I will always be here to support the museum.”
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