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VMFA Makes History by Electing First African-American President of Board of Trustee

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has elected its first African-American as president of its Board of Trustees. This is a historic move in its 82-years of existence. The African-American, Dr. Monroe E. Harris Jr., is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and partner at Virginia Oral & Facial Surgery.

The historic election of Harris happened on July 1st succeeding Michael J. Schewel. Harris is however not a new figure in the Museum; he has been part of the board of trustees for five years and once an executive vice president of the board, as well as the president of the Foundation Board of Directors.

Dr. Harris, a collector of African and African-American art has been actively involved with the museum since moving to Richmond in 1988. He was once part of a group of doctors responsible for purchasing and donating a painting, “From the Mississippi Delta” to the museum. The painting was created by former dean of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts, the late Murry N. DePillars. And speaking about art, Harris said that he was passionate “about any art that moves the soul.”


“I would like to see the museum continue on its trajectory of expanding our African-American art collection, increasing the diversity of our content and those who visit our museum, and providing even greater opportunities for education and cultural exchange,” Harris wrote.

Harris also spoke of the exhibits he’s seen elsewhere, noting that he recently visited London’s Tate Modern museum. There he saw Picasso’s 1932 work, which is widely famed as his “year of wonders.” The London museum displayed “The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy.”

“It is a beautiful and expansive show,” Harris said.

Dr. Harris is a native of Lousville, Ky. And he volunteers his services in the Richmond area and beyond; actively seen offering free oral surgery at the Health Brigade, Crossover Clinic, Donated Dental Services of Virginia and Missions of Mercy.

Other than giving back to the society, Harris has a long list of professional experience; he was once president of Virginia Board of Dentistry and the Virginia Board of Medical Assistance, also once Board chair of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and president of the Board of the Virginia Repertory Theatre.

Harris is married to Dr. Jill Bussey with two children, Monroe III and Madison; and he is currently serving on the board of the American Civil War Museum.  His historic election to VMFA accords him a lot of responsibility, not only to showcase his expertise in arts but also a chance to give back to the community.

Harris’s long chain of charity works and professional experience has earned him great reputation and influenced his election to the position. Many can only wait and see what great ideas he will bring to the museum, especially considering that his election is a historic one after 82 years; he has the responsibility to leave behind a legacy that will also applaud the election and encourage more inclusivity in the future.


Written by How Africa

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