Holly Block, the executive director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York, died on 7 October from cancer, aged 58. A director’s fund for the Bronx Museum has been established in Block’s honour for her successor to “further Holly’s vision in fostering emerging and established artists, and in serving as a passionate advocate for the power of art to promote understanding and cultural exchange”.
Block was appointed director in 2006, and had previously worked at the museum as curator from 1985-88—her first job in New York, where she moved after studying at Bennington College in Vermont. During her career, Block also ran the State Department community art programmes in Pakistan, Egypt, Venezuela China and Kenya—in a Somali refugee camp—among other countries.
Under her leadership, the Bronx Museum quadrupled its annual attendance after making admission free in 2012, established an acquisitions fund (boosted by a $500,000 donation from the Ford Foundation in 2012, according to the New York Times) and launched a $25m public-private capital campaign last year for a $15m expansion by Monica Ponce de Leon, with its first phase due to be completed in 2020, and a $10m endowment fund. The museum also co-commissioned the US pavilion with work by Sarah Sze at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
Block was known as a champion of Cuban art, and helped set up the contemporary Cuban art exhibition Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje, for which the museum lent around 80 works to the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana in 2015—the first US-Cuban museum collaboration in 50 years. However, Cuban authorities cancelled plans to send works to the Bronx for a reciprocal show, and so the Bronx Museum’s leg of Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje, delayed multiple times, finally opened in February 2017 with around 60 works from private and public collections outside of Cuba. The expensive initiative became a bone of contention with some board members and the chairman and five trustees left the board in August 2016.