Maria Nicanor, executive director of the Rice Design Alliance (RDA) at Rice University’s School of Architecture in Houston, Texas, since 2017, has been appointed director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, effective 21 March. She will be responsible for a staff of 86 and an annual budget of over $15 million. The curator and historian has many years of experience in various institutions. Before joining the RDA, Maria Nicanor, who was born in Barcelona and grew up in Madrid, worked for more than a decade in art museums and foundations around the world. She was founding director of the Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid and curator in the Design, Architecture and Digital Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London from 2013 to 2016. Prior to that, she held various positions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York between 2005 and 2013, including Associate Curator of Architecture and Urbanism and Co-Curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab project. Her projects at the Guggenheim included Participatory City and Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward.
“I am grateful and deeply honoured to join the extraordinary team at Cooper Hewitt,” said Nicanor. “Joining the Smithsonian family and building on Cooper Hewitt’s past successes offers the opportunity to bring together the three main pillars of my career: Design and Architecture, Public Service and Museum Work. We can’t ignore that it’s a particularly complicated time for museums in general right now. Not just what we do, but how we do it, for whom and with whom, are essential questions for design museums to think about.”
Maria Nicanor succeeds Caroline Baumann, who served as director from 2013 to 2020. John Davis and Ruki Neuhold-Ravikumar served as interim directors from 2020 to 2022. The Cooper Hewitt, founded in 1897, celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. Since 1967, the museum has been part of the Smithsonian Institution research and education organisation. Housed in the landmarked Carnegie Mansion on New York City’s Museum Mile, it has one of the most diverse and extensive design collections in the world, with more than 215,000 objects.
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