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Award for Excellence in Diversity

The Excellence in Diversity Award, established in 2017, recognizes outstanding efforts in arts programming, projects, and/or scholarship to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. The award may be made to either an institution or individual for demonstrated and significant advancement of diversity in non-profit institutions such as colleges or universities, museums or galleries, foundations, and/or cultural agencies, especially in areas related to including, embracing, and/or enhancing opportunities for people of all ages, cultures, ethnicities, religions/faiths, genders, differing abilities, and/or sexual orientations.


Valerie Cassel Oliver 

Valerie Cassel Oliver is the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). With her life-long commitment to increasing diversity in modern and contemporary art, her work has always focused on representation, inclusivity and highlighting artists of different social and cultural backgrounds. Cassel Oliver began her career working with the Black Arts Alliance in Austin, Texas, where she administered grants for the National Endowment for the Arts. Then, she became director of the Visiting Artist Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and served as Senior Curator at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston from 2000 to 2017. Cassel Oliver was the organizer of the acclaimed exhibits including Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 (2005); Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image with Dr. Andrea Barnwell Brownlee (2009); Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of Flux/us, and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art (2012).  In 2018 at the VMFA, she co-organized the 50-year survey, Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen, with Naomi Beckwith then with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. The exhibit was named one of the most influential of the decade. Most recently, she organized the acclaimed survey, The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse. Cassel Oliver’s many achievements have been widely recognized. In 2000 she was one of six curators selected to organize the Biennial including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She also has earned fellowships with the Getty Research Institute and the Center for Curatorial Leadership (New York).  

Carmelita Higgenbotham, Virginia Commonwealth University  
Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, University of Michigan  
Sohl Lee, Stony Brook University 


2021 Margo Machida  
Jury: Sohl Lee, SUNY Stony Brook; Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, University of Michigan; Carmenita Higginbotham; and Jonathan Katz, University of Pennsylvania.  

2020 3Arts   
Jury: Christine Young-Kyung Hahn, Kalamazoo College, co-chair; Susan D. Zurbrigg, James Madison University, co-chair; Linda Earle, Temple University; and Jacqueline Francis, California College of the Arts.  

2019 Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) 
 Jury: Christine Young-Kyung Hahn, Kalamazoo College, cochair; Susan D. Zurbrigg, James Madison University, cochair; Linda Earle, New York Arts Program; Jacqueline Francis, California College of the Arts. 

2018 Kellie Jones, Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS), Columbia University
Jury: Christine Young-Kyung Hahn, Kalamazoo College, co-chair; Susan D. Zurbigg, James Madison University, co-chair; Linda Earle, New York Arts Program; and Jacqueline Francis, California College of the Arts.