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OMCA Welcomes Makeda Best as the Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs

Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) has announced that curator, author, historian, educator, and multidisciplinary arts leader Makeda Best will join its staff as the new Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs. Best comes to OMCA after serving at Harvard University Art Museums as Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography, and previously as Assistant Professor of Visual Studies at California College of the Arts. At OMCA, Best will lead planning and implementation of exhibitions and will oversee  all aspects of management of and access to the Museum’s nearly 2 million items in its collections that focus on the art, history and natural sciences of California.

“We are excited and honored to have Makeda Best join us with vision, expertise and energy across many areas. We look forward to her work that will add depth and insight to our mission of creating positive social impact through exhibitions, collections presentations, and community engagement,” says Lori Fogarty, CEO and Director of OMCA. “Her keen interest and deep experience in interdisciplinary storytelling to invite, welcome and inspire the community are ideal assets for Oakland and OMCA.”

“I’m inspired by the opportunity to join a dynamic institution committed to addressing the issues of our time through its museum’s workplace culture and its external programming,” says Best.

About Makeda Best

Makeda Best has served at Harvard University Art Museums since 2017 as Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography. As curator, Best has gained recognition for her work to elevate the voices of marginalized artists and to expand the representation of stories in the collection. Since 2022, she has served as the Interim Division Head of the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art. Her exhibitions at the Harvard Art Museums include Crossing Lines, Constricting Home: Displacement and Belonging in Contemporary ArtWinslow Homer: EyewitnessTime is Now: Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America, and 2021’s Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography Since 1970. Currently on view at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts is Best’s exhibition, Please Stay Home: Darrel Ellis in Conversation with Wardell Milan and Leslie Hewitt. Beyond photography, Best conceived of the Museums’ curatorial ReFrame initiative, which aims to critically examine the museum and its collections. With Kevin Moore, she co-curated the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial exhibition, On the Line – Documents of Risk and Faith. A sought after expert in the field, in addition lecturing widely, she has served on numerous juries (from Philadelphia’s The Print Center to Center for Photography Woodstock). At the University, Best has been a popular and award winning lecturer for the past five years, teaching such courses as “Photography and Ecology” for the Department of Art, Film and Visual Studies.

Best has contributed to multiple exhibition catalogues, journals and scholarly publications. Most recently, she has written on Bettye Saar, Imogen Cunningham, and Darrel Ellis. Her forthcoming book projects explore photography’s intersections with issues of race, ecology and labor. She co-edited Conflict, Identity, and Protest in American Art (2015). She is the author of the critically acclaimed Elevate the MassesAlexander Gardner, Photography and Democracy in 19th Century America. Her exhibition catalogue for Devour the Land: War and American Landscape Photography since 1970 (2022) was awarded the Photography Catalogue of the Year Award at the 2022 Paris Photo-Aperture PhotoBook Awards.

A San Francisco native, Best received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. She earned a B.F.A. and M.F.A. in photography from the California Institute of the Arts, studying under American photographer, writer, filmmaker, theorist, and critic Allan Sekula. She also received a B.A. in history and art history from Barnard College. She completed McKinsey and Co.’s Black Leadership Academy Management Accelerator in 2021. Prior to going to Harvard, she served as an Assistant Professor in the Visual Studies Department at the California College of the Arts. She also previously worked at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Best’s scholarship has been supported by fellowships and grants from numerous institutions including Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Phillips Collection; and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Between 2013 and 2016, Best served on the College Art Association’s Museum Committee.  From 2015-2017, she worked as an advisor and contributor to Oregon Public Radio/Annenberg Learner’s Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. Today, she serves on the advisory board of the Association of Historians of American Art’s journal, Panorama. She is also one of the co-founders and co-leaders of Museums Moving Forward, a staff-driven initiative to support greater equity and accountability in art museum workplaces through data and research.