Jenenne Whitfield, newly-appointed director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Photo credit: AVAM.

Jenenne Whitfield, president and CEO of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, will succeed Rebecca Alban Hoffberger as director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

AVAM’s board announced Wednesday that Whitfield will take up her new role in September. She will be only the second director in the history of the national museum and education center, which is dedicated to showcasing “intuitive, self-taught artistry and thought.”

Hoffberger, who co-founded the museum with her late husband LeRoy and has served as its director and chief curator since it opened in 1995, announced last July that she planned to retire this spring. Her last day as full time director will be April 3, but she plans to stay on part-time to aid in the transition.

Whitfield, 60, has worked with the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor arts environment, for 28 years and has been its president and CEO since 2017. Under her direction, it has gained international prominence.

In addition to her work with the Heidelberg Project, Whitfield lectures regularly, has taught courses at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan on art as a social practice, and serves as a mentor to the next generation of art thinkers and activists. She is also co-founder of a new art collective in Detroit called United Artists of Detroit (UAD).

Whitfield, who is Black, will be the latest in a growing contingent of African Americans taking leadership positions in Baltimore-based arts and cultural organizations. Others include the new head of Creative Alliance and the new chairs of the Walters Art Museum and, starting this summer, the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“We are so proud and delighted to have attracted as our new director such a devoted and credentialed artistic leader as Jenenne Whitfield to now lead the American Visionary Art Museum forward and build on the indelible legacy of Founding Director Rebecca Hoffberger,” said AVAM Board Chair Christopher Goelet, in a statement.

“Jenenne’s long tenure with the Heidelberg Project, one of our nation’s most respected mission-driven artistic endeavors, is a testament to her commitment to enliven local communities and give voice to the concerns of our day through original and inspired artistic expression, also core to AVAM’s mission,” Goelet added.

Hoffberger is confident that the museum which she co-founded nearly three decades ago will be in good hands with Whitfield at the helm.

“From idea to sustained fruition, the American Visionary Art Museum has occupied more than half my life. Without reservation, and with unanimous AVAM Board and staff accord, I have the utmost peace and joy in our rightful selection of Jenenne Whitfield as my successor,” Hoffberger said.

“Simply put, Jenenne has had her own stellar lifetime of preparation to lead AVAM,” Hoffberger said. “She cherishes and ‘gets’ all the key elements that have made AVAM such a healing and magic, beloved destination. Our peers from London’s Raw Vision magazine and from several national foundations, likewise acted to champion Jenenne’s integrity and ‘perfect fit.’ Her personal passion for visionary art, metaphysics, justice and science, mirrors my own. From the moment we met, I felt a load lifted and a great relief descend. She’s our ‘one.’”

Whitfield said she is excited by AVAM’s focus on the connection between humanity and art.

“I am beyond thrilled to become part of the AVAM family,” Whitfield said in a statement.

“What excites me most is that AVAM’s philosophy and visual aesthetics are beautifully aligned with what it means to be human and what we should strive for as a human race. Rebecca has done an extraordinary job of embracing, advancing and providing a place for the intuitive creative spirit to flourish and grow. I look forward to building upon her strong foundation by increasing AVAM’s visibility, building greater alliances and taking AVAM to its next level.”

Whitfield said in a video message that she and Hoffberger “are like sisters,” united by a shared goal of “bringing the work of visionaries to life.”

“We have so much in us as people that is untapped, so we want to build upon that and that’s what my work is going to be about when I come to the American Visionary Art Museum,” Whitfield said.

She added that as director she plans to expand the diversity of AVAM’s audience, build partnerships, and fundraise for the museum.

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Ed Gunts

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