Thelma Golden

Your life’s work has redefined our understanding of the power of art to transform society, while reminding us of the essential truth that the artistic spirit knows no bounds. Born and raised in Queens, you were drawn to the New York Times’ s Arts section and the city’s museums and galleries, landing an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before attending Smith College. Confronted with undergraduate curricula in both art history and African-American studies that made no mention of black artists, you had found your calling. This absence was a failure that must not stand, and you would be involved in correcting it. At the Whitney Museum of American Art, you helped produce the revolutionary 1993 Biennial and curated the groundbreaking exhibit Black Male, which examined destructive and persistent stereotypes about African-American masculinity. As chief curator, then director, of the Studio Museum in Harlem, you cemented the museum’s position as a powerhouse institution, bringing art from the African diaspora to audiences in New York and beyond. Under your leadership, the museum blossomed into a global forum and a place of pride for the neighborhood. Your greatest legacy may be the generations of curators you have mentored and the long list of artists whose creativity received its first, meaningful public viewing at the Studio Museum. This year, the museum celebrates its 50th anniversary by breaking ground on a spectacular new building by architect David Adjaye that will serve as a fitting tribute to an indispensable institution and its fearless director. Your mentor James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” You confronted an art world severely diminished by its willful narrowness and succeeded in celebrating neglected but essential perspectives and placing them in the foreground of our awareness. For your intellect, your courage, and your determination to face and change the world, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.