A LONGSTANDING PATRON OF THE ARTS, Dr. Virginia Joy Simmons, has joined the State Board of Directors at the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles. Chartered by the State of California in 1977, CAAM is a state-funded museum. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Simmons to the non-compensated position on Dec. 22, 2022.
“Simmons has long been a friend and supporter of CAAM, and the Museum is honored that she is returning to help us plan for our future,” the museum said, announcing the appointment on its website.
“As an art collector and philanthropist, she has focused her support on artists of African descent and, more broadly, artists whose work is informed and inspired by Black culture. Recognizing the importance of sustaining a healthy arts ecosystem, Simmons is known for mentoring the next generation of art collectors and cultivating interest in supporting the networks of culture that sustain creativity.”
Dr. Virginia Joy Simmons. | Photo Courtesy CAAM
A radiologist, Simmons began her career at Kaiser Permanente in 1983 and she was on faculty at Kaiser’s Center for Medical Education since 2000. She recently retired after nearly 40 years. The transition has allowed her to focus even more of her time and efforts on supporting the arts and Stanford University, where she earned her undergraduate degree and previously served on the board of trustees. Last year, Simmons received Stanford’s 2021-22 Gold Spike Award, the highest alumni honor for volunteer service to the university.
Her leadership and support in the LA arts community spans decades and extends across institutions large and small. Since 2020, Simmons has been a senior art and exhibition advisor for Destination Crenshaw. The $100 million public-private project, billed as “the largest commissioned initiative ever undertaken for Black artists,” is working with 100 artists to create outdoor artworks along a 1.3 mile stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard.
Simmons currently chairs the board at The Mistake Room and is a founding board member at LAXART. Both nonprofits are inventive art spaces that work with thoughtful artists and reimagine how to connect with audiences.
In addition, Simmons is among the supporters of recent museum exhibitions, including “Henry Taylor: B Side” and “Garrett Bradley: American Rhapsody,” both currently at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles, and “Black American Portraits” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). She also supported “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” the artist’s 35-year retrospective at MOCA (2017).
“As an art collector and philanthropist, [Virginia Joy Simmons] has focused her support on artists of African descent and, more broadly, artists whose work is informed and inspired by Black culture. — CAAM
At CAAM, “Face to Face: Los Angeles Collects Portraiture” featured a rhinestone embellished portrait by Mickalene Thomas on loan from Simmons’s collection. The 2017 exhibition was co-curated by Naima Keith and Diana Nawi (a precursor to their team effort as co-artistic directors of Prospect 5 in New Orleans in 2021-22).
Keith, Simmons’s daughter, was serving as deputy director and chief curator of CAAM at the time. When Keith joined the museum in 2016, she rebranded the institution and reinvented its public programming and exhibitions with an elevated slate of artists, thinkers, and historians. (Keith is now vice president of education and public programs at LACMA.)
Cameron Shaw succeeded Keith in 2019. The board promoted Shaw to executive director in 2021 and she has since hired an all-female staff and continues to fortify CAAM’s art and history programming, expanding its scholarship and providing a community-centered platform for visual artists—emerging, established, and important overlooked figures—that rivals much larger institutions in the city.
Among her key initiatives, last year Shaw launched a five-year collaboration with Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice; announced a publishing program in the spring; and in December, hosted CAAMCon, the museum’s first Black Comics Festival.
Simmons brings extensive experience and connections in the contemporary art world to CAAM’s relatively small board of six members with little turnover. Todd Hawkins and Zna Portlock Houston, the president and vice president, respectively, have each served for a decade. Other members also include Rev. Cecil L. Murray, 93, the esteemed city leader and recent retiree from the University of Southern California (2022) who is known for transforming First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles from a congregation of a few hundred to a major source of community organizing and economic development with 18,000 members (1977-2004). Simmons participated in her first board meeting on Jan. 20.
Sharing news of her appointment on Instagram, Simmons wrote: “CAAM has always been near and dear to my heart, and an institution I have supported for over 40 years. I am thrilled to join the Board and help to grow the museum to new heights.” CT
FIND MORE about Joy Simmons on Instagram
FIND MORE Several outlets have profiled Joy Simmons, exploring her art collection and support of artists, including Frieze, New York magazine’s The Cut, Artnet News, Cultured magazine, and the Financial Times.
PUBLIC CONVERSATION On Feb. 26 @ 7 p.m PST, CAAM is hosting a conversation about ceramic artist Doyle Lane (1925-2002) with artists Lee Whitten and Stanley C. Wilson, moderated by visual arts curator Taylor Renee Aldridge. The event launches the new exhibition catalog “Doyle Lane: Weed Pots,” documenting a 2020 show at David Kordansky Gallery curated by Ricky Swallow
Coming soon, “Helen Cammock: Keep My Soul” is on view at Art + Practice, from Feb. 11-Aug. 5, 2023. The exhibition is a collaboration between CAAM and A+P
DISCLOSURE: Virginia Joy Simmons is among the generous supporters who have made donations to Culture Type. Contributions do not influence or dictate editorial coverage or content.
Last year, CAAM launched a new publications program with the exhibition catalog “Enunciated Life,” an inaugural volume edited by curator Taylor Renee Aldridge. Forthcoming in March, “Helen Cammock: I Will Keep My Soul” documents the exhibition at Art + Practice, a collaboration with CAAM. Over the years, several publications have been published to accompany exhibitions at the California African American Museum (CAAM).
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