The artist Mary Evans will be the first Black director of London’s Slade School of Fine Art, taking the reins at the prestigious art school on 4 October. She will succeed Kieren Reed, who took up the post in September 2018.
Evans joins from Chelsea College of Arts, University Arts London (UAL) where she has served as leader of the undergraduate fine art course for five years. Her higher education experience also includes teaching on the equivalent course at fellow UAL institution Central Saint Martins.
Evans's appointment follows a tumultuous period for the Slade, punctuated towards its end by student-led protests about the lack of studio space during the Covid-19 pandemic and accusations of systemic racism within the institution. In 2021, students organised a demonstration called #sladeoccupied, sparked by what they argued was inaction on underrepresentation of non-white students and staff and an institutionally racist environment. An independent “environmental investigation” report published the following year—carried out by the management consultancy group Nous—found, among other qualms, that “Slade’s recruitment panels are not sufficiently diverse and recruitment processes are not consistently applied”.
Posting on social media in May, Reed announced that after completing his five-year tenure as director he would be taking a sabbatical to “focus on [his] art practice and to concentrate on [...] research”.
Of Evans's appointment, he said in an email to The Art Newspaper: “On behalf of the entire artistic community in the Slade School of Fine Art, I extend my sincere congratulations to artist Mary Evans who has been appointed as the new director. Mary’s dedication, expertise, and vision have been evident throughout her career, and the Slade community is thrilled to have her lead our school into an exciting new chapter. Mary’s leadership will inspire both staff and students alike, fostering a vibrant academic environment where excellence will thrive.”
In a statement, meanwhile, Evans said: “It will be a privilege to work in an environment that offers a transformative education to emerging artists where students and staff can express themselves and take risks in an increasingly equitable environment at this important moment when diverse knowledges are relevant and necessary.”
The executive dean of University College London's (UCL) arts and humanities faculty (under which Slade is organised), Stella Bruzzi, will work alongside Evans as part of the faculty leadership team. In a statement Bruzzi commends Evans on “her a wealth of experience, adding that “her directorship of the Slade will support both the faculty and wider UCL in our world-leading and interdisciplinary arts and humanities disciplines”.
In 2022, students at the school wrote an open letter to the UCL vice-provost questioning Bruzzi’s ability to impart change following the 2021 protests against institutional racism and the subsequent independent report.
Evans—a Nigerian-born British artist—has exhibited internationally including a solo show at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2008 and a solo display of her work currently showing at South Africa’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa titled GILT. She is most-known for her paper silhouette works which draw on her African heritage and experience in the Black diaspora.
UPDATE 16/08/2023: This article was amended on 16 August to include an additional quote from Kieren Reed