Black and Powerful: Denise Gardner, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago in Loop

CHICAGO (WLS) — In April 2021, it was announced that Denise Gardner has been elected as the new Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute of Chicago. In November, she took on her new role, becoming the first black and female president of the Museum and School of the Art Institute.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be in this position,” Gardner said.

In her first television interview since taking on her landmark role, Gardner spoke to ABC7’s Leah Hope for episode 13 of the streaming series “Black & Powerful.”

“You would never hand me a brush; I wouldn’t know what to do with it,” said Gardner. But she is an avid art collector, a love she attributes to her husband. “For date nights, we often went to the Art Institute.”

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Gardner, a self-described history buff, said her love of research and history deepened her love of art. “The stories behind the art…they really appealed to me,” Gardner said. “I realized there was a whole bunch of artists that I had never heard of growing up: Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and then here in Chicago Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett. And I felt, what a shame it was that I artists didn’t really know.”

That led to Gardner’s work to ensure that the legacies of black artists were shared with future generations.

According to the Art Institute, Gardner has a nearly 30-year relationship with the Art Institute as a volunteer and philanthropic leader, including 15 years as a trustee and five years as vice chairman of the board.

Gardner said that as chair of the Art Institute’s board of directors, she hopes that all Chicago residents will feel connected to one of the oldest and largest art museums in the country.

“We’re here for the public, not the few. We’re here so people from all 77 neighborhoods of Chicago can come here, feel comfortable here, and feel like there’s something here for them,” Gardner said.

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