Elizabeth A. Eisenstein and Deborah Willis Appointed to the Smithsonian American Art Museum Commission

Contact Person
Courtney Rothbard
Contact Email
Contact Phone Number

Smithsonian American Art Museum has announced that Elizabeth A. Eisenstein and Deborah Willis have been appointed to the museum’s Board of Commissioners; each will serve a four-year term. Their appointment was approved by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents at their meeting Jan. 29.

The museum’s Board of Commissioners was established in 1921 as an advisory board that meets twice a year in Washington, D.C., to advise the director about matters of policy, fundraising and to review proposed major acquisitions.

“These two new commissioners bring important expertise and connections to help fulfill SAAM’s mission of celebrating the creativity of artists whose work reflect the American experience and global connections,” said Stephanie Stebich, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Ms. Eisenstein has championed Georgetown University’s arts program, raising significant funds for their new art museum opening in April 2018. Dr. Willis is a noted scholar, a former Smithsonian staff member and is connected to contemporary art directions through her own photography and the work of her son artist Hank Willis Thomas.”

Elizabeth “Beth” A. Eisenstein of Boston recently completed her term as chairman of the College Board of Advisors at Georgetown University, where she served as chairman for five of the nine years that she was on the Board. Eisenstein is also a member of the Advisory Board at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, and she has been directly involved in numerous meetings at the Vatican relating to the role of women in leadership within the Catholic Church. She has served as a member and advisor for ABC (A Better Chance), a national organization serving at-risk high school girls of color who seek educational opportunities outside of their present communities.

Eisenstein’s family has endowed the Amaturo Chair in Catholic Studies at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and has made an endowed gift to the Georgetown Scholarship Program in support of first-generation college students. She and her husband Jimmy Eisenstein are collectors of 20th-century paintings, sculptures and contemporary art. Eisenstein holds a bachelor’s degree from the School of Health Sciences at Georgetown University.

Willis of New York City is the chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She has pursued a dual career as an art photographer and curator. She was named one of the "100 Most Important People in Photography" by American Photography magazine and is considered one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography and curators of African American culture. Willis has published extensively, curated numerous exhibitions and has worked as a consultant to museums, archives and educational centers. She served as a member of the executive committee of the boards of the College Art Association and as chairperson of the Society for Photographic Education.

Willis has been awarded a number of prestigious grants, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, and was a Richard D. Cohen Fellow in African and African American Art (Harvard University), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and an Alphonse Fletcher Jr. Fellow. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from Philadelphia College of Art, a Master of Fine Arts in photography from Pratt Institute, a Master of Arts in art history and museum studies from the City College of New York and doctoral degree in cultural studies from George Mason University.

“It is truly a privilege to be appointed as a commissioner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery,” said Eisenstein. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the extraordinary Director Stephanie Stebich, my fellow commissioners and the exceptional curators and staff who bring American art to life in our nation's capital. I look forward to serving in this special role and to helping enrich this incredible gift to our nation."

“I am delighted and honored by this appointment as it offers me an opportunity to work with an outstanding group of commissioners, staff and with the esteemed director Stephanie Stebich at SAAM,” said Willis. “I have a long history here at the Smithsonian as a visitor, researcher, consultant, advisor and former curator and believe I will be able to draw on this varied history from time to time. In my role, I hope to have an impact as we collectively engage in broad discussions about aesthetics, the collection and framing public and scholarly programs about cultural and artistic expressions.”

# # #

Note to Editors: Selected high-resolution images for publicity only may be downloaded from americanart.si.edu/pr. Email americanartpressoffice@si.edu for the password.

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Website: americanart.si.edu

Press Images