Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell
On August 1, 2015, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell began her tenure as the 10th president of Spelman College. A leading liberal arts college for women of African descent located in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman has long enjoyed a reputation as the nation’s leading producer of Black women scientists.
Prior to arriving in Atlanta, Dr. Campbell was a major force in the cultural life of New York City. Her career in New York, which included various challenging roles, began at the Studio Museum in Harlem where she served for 10 years. Her role there began at a time when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy and Harlem was in steep decline. However, under her leadership, the museum was transformed from a rented loft to the country’s first accredited Black Fine Arts Museum. Dr. Campbell also established herself as a stalwart supporter who championed the need for professional development opportunities for women and people of color in the arts.
When she left the Studio Museum of Harlem in 1987, the organization was recognized as a linchpin in the economic revitalization of the 125th street corridor and a major center for the study of the visual arts of the Black Atlantic.
New York’s late Mayor Edward I. Koch invited Dr. Campbell to serve as the city’s cultural affairs commissioner in 1987. In this role, she led the Department of Cultural Affairs which oversees the operations and capital development of the city’s major cultural institutions. As a commissioner, she gained a reputation as an indefatigable advocate for large and small arts organizations throughout all five boroughs.
Dr. Campbell returned to the private sector to become dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the fall of 1991. In her more than two decades as a dean, the Tisch School gained a reputation for producing artistic trailblazers in theater, film, and interactive media.
In September 2009, former President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Campbell as the vice-chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a non-partisan advisory committee to the President of the United States on cultural matters. As vice-chair, Dr. Campbell took an active role in reaffirming the arts as one of the ingredients essential to effective public school education.
She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and currently sits on the boards of The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the High Museum of Art, and the J. Paul Getty Trust as well as on the Advisory Boards of the Bonner Foundation and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. She also holds numerous honorary degrees, including one from her alma mater, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
She recently completed a book, An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden for Oxford University Press. For this work, Dr. Campbell received the 2018 Hooks National Book Award from the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. In 2019, she was a finalist for the 55th Georgia Author of the Year Award in the category of biography. Also, the Museum of African American History selected “An American Odyssey” as a finalist for the 2019 MAAH Stone Book Award.
As president of Spelman College, Dr. Campbell has launched Imagine. Invent. Ascend, a bold new strategic vision for the College that builds on Spelman’s legendary legacy to educate Black women for the 21st century.
Dr. Campbell received a bachelor’s of art degree in English literature from Swarthmore College, a master’s of Art in Art History from Syracuse University, and a doctorate in Humanities from Syracuse. She and her husband, Dr. George Campbell Jr., president emeritus of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, are the parents of three sons and have six grandchildren.