Announcing Our New Director Travis Chamberlain
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Executive Director at Queer|Art and Former New Museum Curator to Helm Washington Project for the Arts – Washington, DC’s Leading Non-Profit Contemporary Arts Organization, with a Mission Focused on Collaboration between Artists and Audiences[Washington, DC – July 12, 2023] – Today the Board of Directors of the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) in Washington, DC announced the appointment of Travis Chamberlain as its next Director. Chamberlain—a curator and director with more than 20 years of experience in museum, non-profit, and for-profit contemporary arts spaces in New York City—will begin his new role on September 1, 2023, becoming the 12th Director of one of the most influential and impactful contemporary arts organizations in the region and the U.S.
Now in its 48th year, WPA is a trailblazer among the region’s contemporary art institutions, with a dedicated project space, bookstore, and gallery located in the capital’s lively U Street Corridor. WPA’s mission supports the development of experimental projects that build community through collaborations between artists and audiences, with an emphasis on dialogue and advocacy. Artists are invited to curate and organize all of WPA’s programming as an extension of their own intellectual research, and their resulting projects may assume a variety of forms including exhibitions, publications, performances, workshops, symposia, community dinners, and more.
“We feel very fortunate to welcome Travis Chamberlain as the next Director of Washington Project for the Arts,” said Board of Directors Co-Chairs Ashley Givens, Ph.D. and Jocelyn Sigue. “His decades-long commitment to community organizing through art and his extensive experience as a curator, producer, and institutional leader working at a local, national, and international level will be a tremendous asset to WPA and the greater region.”
Chamberlain assumes the role as WPA’s principal executive leader after five years as Executive Director at Queer|Art, a community-based nonprofit with a mission to connect and empower generations of LGBTQ+ artists throughout the nation. Prior to this position, Chamberlain spent ten years as a curator of performance at the New Museum in New York City.
“Washington Project for the Arts is an incubator for new art that is unrestrained by discipline and anchored by ideas that seek to inspire positive change in the world,” Chamberlain notes. “The fact that WPA is in DC, so close to the Capitol and all that comes with it, only makes the questions we ask and the answers we explore together all the more resonant for artists and communities everywhere. I am excited to join the staff and board in furthering their commitment to facilitating collaborations between audiences and artists. Through our work together, WPA will also become a catalyst for nurturing an exchange of ideas and resource sharing among creative communities on a more global level, with DC as the hub from which all WPA collaborations will flow.”
Chamberlain’s appointment follows an extensive national search supported by Claire Huschle of Good Insight. His arrival coincides with WPA’s 2023–2024 Season Kick-Off and BBQ on Saturday, September 9. The event will introduce the roster of 2023–2024 Artist-Organizers and the projects they will be producing through collaboration with WPA, invited artists, and local communities. All are welcome to attend! Tickets are Pay What You Wish for artists with additional General Admission tickets available starting at $20.
About Travis Chamberlain
In his previous capacities as the Associate Curator of Performance and Manager of Public Programs at the New Museum (2007–2017) and Artistic Director of Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn (2004–2007), Travis Chamberlain worked closely with local and international artists to produce performances, residencies, and exhibitions that reflect a diverse and vibrant arts community. That work, with its interdisciplinary and intergenerational focus, closely informed his work as Executive Director at Queer|Art (2007–2023) and continues to compel his interest in community organizing through public engagement with artists and their creative process. As a curator and arts administrator, Chamberlain has coordinated partnerships and co–presentations with The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, Stedelijk Museum, TrouwAmsterdam, Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Public Theater, Performance Space 122, Movement Research, French Institute Alliance Française, The LGBT Center in New York City, and PEN America. He has organized residencies and exhibitions across various creative fields with a wide range of artists, including choreographers Ishmael Houston-Jones and Jack Ferver, author Dennis Cooper, performance artists Karen Finley and Julie Tolentino, visual artist Wu Tsang, and theater artists Tina Satter and Young Jean Lee, among many others.
WPA was founded in 1975 by the art impresario Alice Denney, organizer of the legendary NOW Festival in 1966. Over the past four decades, WPA has presented more than 500 exhibitions; 1,000 performances; 700 lectures, workshops, and symposia; 250 screenings; and 58 public art projects. Nearly every major visual artist in the District between 1975 and today has had some connection with WPA. Many have sat on WPA’s Board of Directors, including William Christenberry, Gene Davis, Sherman Fleming, Sam Gilliam, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, and Maida Withers. Walter Hopps, the legendary curator, was also a board member.
WPA has brought hundreds of extraordinary artists and curators from outside the area to DC over the years. They include Robert Ashley, Alice Aycock, Eric Bogosian, Chris Burden, John Cage, Ullises Carrion, CoLab, Lucinda Childs, Simone Forti, Hollis Frampton, Group Material, Doug Hall, Deborah Hay, Jenny Holzer, David Ireland, Danny Lyon, Meredith Monk, Antonio Muntadas, Steve Paxton, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, Nancy Rubins, Allison Saar, Jacolby Satterwhite, Carolee Schneemann, Joyce Scott, Alan Sekula, Nancy Spero, Haim Stainbach, Alan Suicide, Saya Woolfalk, Robert Wilson, Zanele Muholi, Alisha B. Wormsley, among many others.
Washington Project for the Arts is today perhaps most familiar to those outside of DC for its role in modeling a resistance to censorship during the 90s culture wars when Robert Mapplethorpe’s exhibition The Perfect Moment was canceled at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1989 (due to the Corcoran’s fears of losing their NEA funding on the basis of visual obscenity). WPA stepped up within less than 24 hours to present the exhibition. In 2019, Tiona Nekkia McClodden was invited to revisit this historic event in WPA’s history with the exhibition There Are No Shadows Here: The Perfect Moment at 30. In the decades since the Mapplethorpe exhibition, WPA has remained a dynamic hub for presenting work by DC artists and providing resources for supporting the local creative community. After renewing its mission in 2018, WPA has carved out a new identity with a national and international scope, while simultaneously uplifting values of collaboration, experimentation, and inclusivity in all of its programmatic and operational activities.
WPA: Present and Future
WPA has hosted a number of successful exhibitions, programs, and educational seminars including How can we gather now?, a symposium co-directed by Asad Raza and Prem Krishnamurthy with guest artists and speakers including adrienne maree brown, Black Techno Matters, Tony Cokes, Melani Douglass, Renée Green, Ed Halter, Stefanie Hessler, Tiffany Sia, Naoko Wowsugi and others. Artist-organizers who have developed projects with WPA since its mission change in 2018 include: Eames Armstrong, Anne-Sophie Coiffet, Hayley Cutler, Fabiola R. Delgado & Faride Mereb, Christian Dutilh & Jacob Weinzettel, Amy Hughes Braden, Fabiola Ching, Christopher Kardambikis, Tsedaye Makonnen, Raina Martens, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, Jonathan Monaghan, Nomunomu, Giancarlo Montes Santangelo, and Yacine Tilala Fall. WPA also administers the Wherewithal Grants program for visual artists in the DC-area, supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts as part of its Regional Regranting Program.
This summer, WPA hosts Ama BE, a Ghanaian American transdisciplinary artist exploring African relationships to land, labor, and migration. She is in residence at WPA’s project space from May to August 2023, continuing her research on the agricultural practices of first generation Africans living in the DC area, translating their stories into sculptural pieces that will evolve throughout her time in residence. In August, Ama will host a meal with interviewees and other community members as well as a public Open House on Saturday, August 19 from 1–4 pm.
About Good Insight
With a mission to connect good causes to great leaders, Good Insight is an executive search firm serving the social sector. They plan leadership transitions, recruit talented senior executives, and strengthen boards of directors. Good Insight focuses on leadership searches for small and mid-sized nonprofits with a nationwide reach. To learn more, visit www.good-insight.org.