The Baltimore Museum of Art board of trustees has elected James D. Thornton as its new board chair. Thornton, who is Black, is the first person of color to lead the board.
“I am extremely honored to follow in the footsteps of so many accomplished board chairs who played pivotal roles in establishing the Baltimore Museum of Art as a cultural anchor over the past 108 years,” Thornton said in a statement.
Thornton is a member of the committee tasked with searching for the museum’s next director, to replace former Director Chris Bedford, who stepped down in June to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
A BMA board member since 2004, Thornton has served on an assortment of other committees, including finance, corporate giving, earned income, building and capital planning, major gifts, compensation, and governance.
In addition to his work with the BMA, Thornton is a philanthropist and businessman.
For 27 years, Thornton worked for Sears Roebuck and Company, serving as the company’s vice president. Thornton has also held multiple positions at MBNA bank, including senior executive vice president. Today, Thornton is the Managing Director of Thorwood Real Estate Group LLC.
Throughout his philanthropic career, Thornton has served as the chairman of Talladega College’s board of trustees; president of the Harford County Caucus of African-American Leaders; and a member of the Harford County Planning and Zoning Advisory Board and Judicial Nominating Commission. He is also a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Thornton will succeed former Board Chair Clair Zamoiski Segal. Segal, who was recently chosen by the Baltimore Sun as a 2022 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree, served as the BMA Board Chair for seven years and will remain a board member.
Alongside Thornton’s appointment came the addition of three new board members: Virginia K. Adams, Sam Callard, and Paul L. Oostburg Sanz.
Thornton’s appointment to the position of board chair comes amidst calls for increased diversity, equity, and inclusion at the BMA.
During his tenure as director of the BMA, Bedford sought to diversify the museum’s staff as well as the artists whose work the BMA displays. After Bedford announced his departure in February, local artists have made appeals for a Black successor.
In an interview with WBAL, Bedford said “A sure-fire sign of success would be that the incoming director did not look like me.”
The BMA announced in June that it had selected Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search and leadership advisory firm, to help find the museum’s next director.
In the interim, BMA Chief Curator Asma Naeem and Chief Operating Officer Christine Dietze are serving as co-directors.
Thornton said he will continue to support the museum’s goals for diversity and equity.
“My commitment is to continue to build on both our strong artistic program and our social equity and diversity work across the institution,” Thornton said in a statement. “This work to define the museum of the future will require an unwavering commitment from my Board colleagues and our dedicated staff and leadership. I am confident that with the continued support of our donors, patrons, and visitors, we will lead this institution to greater achievements.”