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Sugar Hill Children’s Museum Names Lauren Kelley Executive Director

Lauren Kelley in front of Shinique Smith’s Secret Garden Laughing Place (2011).

COURTESY SUGAR HILL CHILDREN’S MUSEUM OF ART & STORYTELLING

Lauren Kelley, the associate director of curatorial programs at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling in New York, will now be the Harlem institution’s executive director. Kelley replaces Suzy Delvalle, the museum’s founding director before her departure last June to lead Creative Capital. The museum also announced that Jennifer Ifil-Ryan, Sugar Hill’s associate director of education and community engagement, will now be deputy director and director of creative engagement, a newly created position.

Kelley joined the museum in 2013 as part of its founding senior staff and has organized all of the institution’s art exhibitions since it opened in October 2015, including a current presentation of Shinique Smith’s Secret Garden Laughing Place (2011), an interactive installation in which children are encouraged to traverse a maze-like structure.

“Lauren’s visionary and inclusive approach to the arts shaped the development of museum programs as well as outreach to artists and the local community,” Sugar Hill board chair Ellen Baxter said in a statement. Under new leadership, the museum “will continue to flourish as a model of creative place making,” Baxter added, “and as an incubator for the dreams and aspirations of young children and families from Sugar Hill and beyond.”

Kelley, who was previously the founding director of a university gallery at Prairie View A&M in Texas, is also a practicing artist who has exhibited at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and the New Museum in New York. She has held residencies at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and she won a Creative Capital award in 2015. Though her own practice is not aimed at children, she said she found parallels between her practice and being a museum administrator in making “art accessible to a broader audience.”

Kelley will continue to lead the museum’s curatorial endeavors while engaging contemporary artists, but she will also look to expand the museum’s mission of storytelling.

“We’re trying to figure outs ways to honor and amplify oral histories,” Kelley told ARTnews. “Often these oral histories live in an archive. What we’re looking to do is let some of these soundtracks live in the hands of animators, for example, and see what they can mean for children.”

Kelley was quick to point out that the museum is not just for children.

“There’s so much history to be recognized in this neighborhood,” Kelley said of the museum’s location in Harlem’s Sugar Hill section. “As various cultures have lived here and added to its rich history, the common thread is the oral tradition. You can’t do justice to that story without honoring storytelling.”

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