Deana Haggag Leaving The Contemporary to Become President of United States Artists

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Photo courtesy of Olivia Obineme

A leader in Baltimore’s arts community is leaving town to become the president of United States Artists.

Deana Haggag, head of The Contemporary museum since 2013, is stepping down effective March 31 to take the position of president and CEO of USA in Chicago, starting April 3.

The Contemporary announced today that it will launch a national search for an executive director to replace Haggag and that deputy director Lu Zhang will serve as interim director.

“Deana’s remarkable leadership, passion, dedication and charisma have been instrumental in The Contemporary’s renaissance, and she will be deeply missed by so many of us in Baltimore, but I also know we will enjoy seeing her ongoing success,” said Terry Squyres, The Contemporary’s board chair, in a release. “Under Deana’s leadership, The Contemporary has accomplished so much more than we envisioned when she took the helm almost four years ago, and now we are excited to continue to develop all that she helped build.”

“I have loved working at The Contemporary,” Haggag said in a statement. “It has been an incredible opportunity to grow a truly unique model with the most dedicated volunteers, staff and trustees, and with so many generous and loyal donors, supporters and patrons. I am also deeply indebted to its founder, George Ciscle, for his mentorship, and to Baltimore artists for inspiring our work daily. I will miss it terribly but look forward to The Contemporary’s continued success.”

Founded in 2006, USA offers grants to artists working in a wide range of fields, including architecture and design, crafts, dance, literature, media, music, theater and performance and the visual arts. It has supported talents such as writer Annie Proulx and sculptor Kara Walker.

USA has become one of the most supportive organizations for American artists other than the National Endowment for the Arts. It is funded largely by organizations such as The Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Established in 1989, The Contemporary calls itself a “nomadic, non collecting art museum,” because it does not have a permanent exhibit space.

Haggag has been credited with giving it new energy, with site-specific exhibits such as The Contemporary’s show with Abigail DeVille last year at the Peale Museum, “Only When It’s Dark Enough Can You See the Stars.” It has another show opening next month in the old Hutzler’s department store on Howard Street.

Haggag also was in the news last year during the Pokemon Go craze, when her house was designated a PokeGym and gamers started showing up. One visitor crashed into her car.

A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Haggag told artnet news that she is looking forward to interacting with artists on a national level after her time in Baltimore.

“I’m really excited to become more involved in architecture and literature and performance and dance, whereas my job now leans pretty heavily toward the visual arts,” she said in an interview with the news website.

She was also quoted as saying, “If the NEA were to be dead tomorrow under our current administration, I am excited to be joining an organization that has already been doing work to complement the NEA.”

USA board chairman Steve Oliver noted in a statement that this is an uncertain time for supporting the arts, with Trump reportedly considering plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In this time of transition, “I can’t think of anyone more committed, eager, or prepared than Deana to lead USA,” Oliver said.

Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.
Ed Gunts

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