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Visual AIDS Names Esther McGowan Executive Director


Esther McGowan.


Esther McGowan, the current associate director of Visual AIDS, will serve as the art nonprofit’s executive director beginning in July. McGowan joined the organization five years ago, under its current director, Nelson Santos, whose departure after 17 years was also announced today. Prior to joining Visual AIDS, McGowan had worked in development positions for the Center for Fiction and Alliance for the Arts.

“What’s exciting right now is that it’s going to be our 30th anniversary in 2018, which is a huge milestone for a small but extremely important arts organization like Visual AIDS,” McGowan told ARTnews. “We’ll be celebrating our history as well as what we’re doing now and our future.”

McGowan noted that the organization just completed research for a five-year strategic plan that will go into effect later this year with aims to grow the organization’s budget and programming. Visual AIDS carries the mission of using art to fight against the continuing worldwide AIDS pandemic with support for HIV-positive artists through new commissions and grants for materials as well as maintaining a digital archive of historic and contemporary works by artists living with HIV/AIDS.

McGowan said that as Visual AIDS approaches its anniversary year, it will look to expand its Materials Grant program, which gives artists gift cards to purchase art supplies. It will also work to expand programming beyond New York to artists and communities across the country. She also pointed to a partnership with the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), which helps to create a support system for HIV-positive women.

“Traditionally, HIV-positive women have been marginalized in the conversations around HIV/AIDS,” she said. “Through our partnership, we have learned more about the needs for HIV-positive women. We’re interested in creating community for them and in stigma reduction.”

Later this year, for World AIDS Day on December 1, the nonprofit has tapped curators Erin Christovale and Vivian Crockett to commission a series of short films for its annual Day With(out) Art project, which began in 1989 as an initiative to mourn and commemorate loss to the artistic community wrought by the AIDS crisis. The seven artists who the curators have commissioned are Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye, Reina Gossett, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia Labeija, Tiona McClodden, and Brontez Purnell. The series will premiere at the Whitney Museum in New York.

“Over 30 years, Visual AIDS has grown and evolved as the AIDS pandemic has evolved and changed,” McGowan said. “We have the history and legacies of people who have passed away, and we always look to see how we can be relevant to make a difference and use art as a form of activism.”

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