Curator Joy Bivins appointed Director of Schomburg Center in Harlem: “In my career, I have worked to help others make sense of history”

THE SCHOMBURG CENTER for Black Culture Research in Harlem has a new leader. The New York Public Library announced Joy Bivins will be the next director of the renowned cultural institution, a library and research center where the papers of James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Maya Angelou are kept.

Bivins is high in this position. Since June 2020, Bivins has been Associate Director of Collections and Research Services at Schomburg. Previously, she was chief curator at the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, SC

She officially begins her new role as director of the Schomburg on June 21, succeeding Kevin Young. Poet and author, Young joined the center as director in 2016 and left in January to lead the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.


Joy Bivins is the new director of the Schomburg Center in Harlem. She will be the first woman to lead the institution since the tenure of Jean Blackwell Hutson, which served from 1948 to 1980. | Photo by Jonathan Blanc, NYPL

“Joy’s skill set is absolutely essential as we stand. We did exhaustive research over many months, and it was clear to everyone that Joy has brought so much to the table, a unique set of expertise needed at this point. historic moment, ”said William Kelly, Andrew W. Mellon, director of research libraries at the New York Public Library, in the announcement.

“This job has so many components. You have to be a librarian. A conservationist. You need to understand conservation and treatment. You must be a storyteller. You need to understand how to best share stories and present collections. She can do anything. She has been a caring and inspiring leader over the past extremely difficult year, and I can’t wait to see all that she will accomplish as a director.

“We did exhaustive research over many months, and it was clear to everyone that Joy brought so much to the table, a unique set of expertise needed in this historic time.”
– William Kelly, NYPL Director of Research Libraries

AS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR of Collections and Research Services at Schomburg, Bivins headed five resource divisions: the Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division; Jean Blackwell Hutson General Research and Reference Division; Arts and Artifacts Division; Photographs and Prints Division; and Dividing the moving picture and the recorded sound. She is also the chief curator overseeing acquisitions, collection processing and curatorial activities.

Prior to joining the Schomburg Center, Bivins was for two years chief curator of the future African-American International Museum, managing the curatorial staff as well as the content and design of the inaugural exhibits. The Charleston Museum is scheduled to open next year. Bivins spent most of her career at the Chicago History Museum (2002-18), where she went from exhibition designer to director of curatorial affairs.

Bivins received a BA in History and African American and African Studies from the University of Michigan and holds an MA in African Studies from Cornell University. In the summer of 2001, she was a student at Cornell when she first visited the Schomburg Center to conduct research for her thesis.


The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem hosts a virtual week Literary feast as of June 14 | Photo courtesy of Schomburg Center, NYPL

THE SCHOMBURG is one of the world’s premier institutions dedicated to the life, history and culture of African Americans, the African Diaspora and Africans. Part of the New York Public Library system, the branch was established on 135th Street in Harlem in 1905 and became the Division of Black Literature, History, and Prints in 1925.

A year later, the library acquired the African-American literature collection from Arturo Alfonso Schomburg. Schomburg, an academic of Puerto Rican descent and bibliophile of African descent, was curator of the Division from 1932 until his death in 1938. In 1971, the institution was named in his honor.

Today, the Schomburg collection has over 11 million items. The material includes books, manuscripts, works of art, photographs, journals, sheet music, sound and video recordings, as well as the archives of Baldwin, Angelou, Malcolm X, Harry Belafonte, Ann Petry, Sonny Rollins and Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, among others. .

The centre’s art and photography collections are particularly rich. The collections include paintings, works on paper, sculpture, textiles, and material culture, with strengths in the Harlem Renaissance and WPA periods. Aaron Douglas, Edward Mitchell Bannister, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and Jacob Lawrence are among the artists represented.

Dating from the mid-18th century to the present day, the photography collection includes documentary, portrait and fine art images of such figures as Gordon Parks, James VanDerZee, Edward Steichen, Coreen Simpson, Bert Andrews and Chester Higgins.

“The stories that Schomburg’s collections tell are so important and should be shared as widely as possible. Making these collections as accessible as possible to those in Harlem, New York and elsewhere must be a priority. It’s one thing to have collections. It’s another to make them accessible, and another to make sense of what they mean for our world today. This is what I am delighted to share, ”Bivins said in a statement.

“The Schomburg Center, with its strong collections and rich heritage, has a key role to play right now, bringing people together, facilitating conversations and continuing to ensure that the perspectives and stories of the Black community and of members of the African diaspora are preserved and understood. – Joy Bivins

LATER THIS MONTH, when she gets to work, Bivins has a busy schedule. In addition to making the collections more accessible to a wider range of people locally and digitally, she plans to focus on improving the overall visibility of the Schomburg.

She told the New York Times she also wishes to expand the Caribbean and Latin American resources of the collection and, aware of the contemporary moment, said “she believes that the center now has a” unique “opportunity to facilitate the conversation about the past year – including on the Black Lives Matter movement – in part by providing historical context for more recent events Its first priority is to manage Schomburg’s post-pandemic transition to regular business hours and services.

“After a year of unprecedented isolation, during which we saw the centrality of the Black Lives Matter movement, we need to come together again and make sense of what we have been through. The Schomburg Center, with its strong collections and rich heritage, has a key role to play right now, bringing people together, facilitating conversations, and continuing to ensure that the perspectives and stories of the Black community and members of the African diaspora are preserved. and understood, ”Bivins said in a statement.

“Over the course of my career, I have worked to help others make sense of history, make connections between past and present, and help create a true understanding of where we are at. are now and where we are going. I am extremely touched and grateful to have the opportunity to put this expertise to good use and lead the incredible team of experts at the Schomburg Center through this critical time. I look forward to every minute. CT

COMING SOON The annual Schomburg’s Literary feast opens June 14. The weeklong event is virtual this year and its theme is inspired by Langston Hughes’ words: “Words Like Freedom”

WHAT’S ON The Schomburg is currently presenting three exhibitions: “Georgia in My Mind: Black Politicians in Congress”; “Traveling in black: a century of pleasure, pain and pilgrimage”; and “Subversion and the art of the abolition of slavery”

BOOKSHELF
“Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: bibliophile and black collector” and “Diasporic darkness: the life and times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg”, explore the man who gave his name to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. For kids, “Schomburg: the man who built a library” was published in 2019. Several volumes have been published over the years, drawing on Schomburg’s collections, including “St. James Guide to Black Artists”, “Black New Yorkers: The Illustrated Timeline of Schomburg”, and “The Schomburg Center’s guide to black literature: from the 18th century to the present day”, Also consider, “African-American poetry: 250 years of struggle and song”, a Library of America anthology edited by Kevin Young.

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About Elaine Morales

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