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Nancy Lane, Spirit Behind Studio Museum in Harlem, dies at 88

Nancy Lane, a pioneering executive who spent half a century promoting the work of black artists as an advocate of Harlem’s Studio Museum, died March 28 at her Manhattan home. She was 88.

Her death was announced by the museum’s director and chief curator, Thelma Golden.

Ms. Lane was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Studio Museum in 1973, five years after its inception. She was chairwoman from 1987 to 1989 and remained on the board as the longest-serving member until her death.

As founder of the Acquisitions Committee of the Board of Trustees and chair of the Building Committee, she fueled the museum’s rise from humble beginnings in a rented loft on upper Fifth Avenue to what ARTnews called in 2020 “a touchstone for today’s black artists.” and a pipeline for emerging color curators.”

That same year, The New York Times said the museum’s artist-in-residence program was “an incubator for young careers whose alumni roster, in annual cohorts of three, reads like a canon of half a century of Black American art.”

In 1988, the museum became the first black or Hispanic institution in the country to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. Under the direction of Ms. Lane, the Acquisitions Committee added some 300 works to the collection.

In the business world, she was one of the rare black women to rise through the corporate ranks in the 1970s, most notably at Chase Manhattan and Johnson & Johnson.

She began her corporate career after working as a project manager for the National Urban League in the 1960s, where she developed a Black Executive Exchange Program that matched aspiring students at 26 historically black colleges with corporate executive mentors.

Her support of the arts also extended beyond the Studio Museum as a patron of black artists and a collector of work by them – Xenobia Bailey, Rashid Johnson and Hank Willis Thomas to name a few.

She has donated works from her collection to the Studio Museum and other institutions. In 2019 she was appointed Co-Chair of the Black Arts Council of the Museum of Modern Art. But her work with the Studio Museum is her greatest legacy.

“For five decades, she was a pillar within the institution whose unabashed commitment to our mission and generous stewardship of arts and artists would define us today,” said Ms. Golden.

Kinshasha Holman Conwill, one of Ms. Golden’s predecessors at the Studio Museum and now associate director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, said Ms. Lane’s “deep interest in artists and her dedication to their work are indescribable and rare things.”

Nancy Lee Lane was born on September 3, 1933 in Boston to Samuel Madden Lane, a law school graduate who worked for American Airlines and a steel company, and Gladys (Pitkin) Lane, who worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

She left no immediate survivors.

Ms. Lane earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and Journalism from Boston University in 1962 and a Masters of Public Administration from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1975 she completed a management development program at Harvard Business School.

After her time with the National Urban League, she joined Chase Manhattan Bank in New York to work in executive recruitment. She was later appointed Vice President of Human Resources at Off-Track Betting Corporation in New York City before joining Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical company, in its New Jersey headquarters.

There she was appointed vice president of human resources in 1976, the first woman to hold the position, and later served as vice president of government affairs. She has been described as the first female vice president and first African American on Johnson & Johnson’s internal management board. In 2000 she retired.

In an interview with the digital archive The HistoryMakers in 2016, Ms Lane said she first became aware of the Studio Museum while watching a television program about the artist-in-residence program. She decided to visit.

“I’m not sure I ever went to Harlem before I was there,” she said.

As chair of the building committee, Ms Lane helped inaugurate plans to replace the museum’s current building with one designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye in a joint venture with New York architects Cooper Robertson. The new building will span the museum’s current location at 144 West 125th Street near Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and an adjacent lot.

The Studio Museum, Ms Lane told the International Review of African American Art, “has been a powerful force in transforming the global art world, launching and nurturing the careers of hundreds of African-descended artists and providing generations of viewers with powerful experiences with art and artists.”

These artists, many of whom Ms Lane has personally championed, include Mark Bradford, Awol Erizku, Sam Gilliam, Wangechi Mutu, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems and Kehinde Wiley. Another was Elizabeth Catlett, who died in 2012.

Alvin Hall, who co-chaired MoMA’s Black Arts Council with Ms. Lane, recalled: “As an art collector and patron, Nancy was truly delighted to see artworks in her own home and in institutions that made her see differently and to think.”

“Art also lifted Nancy’s spirits,” added Mr. Hall. “She said of a large photo she hung at the foot of her bed, ‘When I wake up in the morning I want to see a strong black woman.’ It was this daily encouragement that art gave to Nancy. And she gave it back by staunchly supporting many artists and museums.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/arts/nancy-lane-dead.html Nancy Lane, Spirit Behind Studio Museum in Harlem, dies at 88

Ethan Gach

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