NMWA Spotlight

Susan Fisher Sterling has built
her career and the stature of the museum around the message of equity
for women through the example of excellence in
the arts.


Photo © Michele MatteiDirector of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C., Susan Fisher Sterling has built her career and the stature of the museum around the message of equity for women through the example of excellence in the arts. When she signed on as associate curator of the new museum in 1988, she had just graduated from Princeton University with an M.A./Ph.D. in art history, specializing in modern and contemporary art.

As the museum’s associate curator, curator of modern and contemporary art, and then chief curator/deputy director, she organized and oversaw exhibitions and publications on a wide range of contemporary women artists and topics for the museum for over 20 years. Her last project as deputy director/chief curator was the creation of the New York Avenue Sculpture Project (2010),
a public-private partnership featuring changing installations of monumental public art by contemporary women in the heart of Washington, D.C.

Sterling assumed the directorship of the museum in 2008, and during her nine-year tenure the museum has flourished. In 2012-13, NMWA marked its 25th anniversary with major celebrations and the completion of its $50 million Legacy of Women in the Arts Endowment. Under Sterling’s leadership, the museum has received the highest Charity Navigator rating of 4 stars for sound fiscal and programmatic management. Currently, Sterling is focused on a new programmatic initiative, Women, Arts, and Social Change, and planning for the museum’s 30th anniversary in 2017-18.

Among Sterling’s honors are National Orders of Merit from Brazil and Norway, the President’s Award of the Women’s Caucus for Art, and in 2011, she was recognized as one of ArtTable’s 30 most influential professional women in the visual arts.  She is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors and the International Women’s Forum, and was recently a presenter at the World Economic Forum’s New Champions meeting in China on The Art of Change.

For more information:
Whitewall Magazine, “Susan Fisher Sterling on Women, Arts, and Social Change,” Feb. 28, 2017


2006 National Medal of Arts recipient and arts patron Wilhelmina Holladay accepts her award from President and Mrs. Laura Bush in an Oval Office ceremony on November 9, 2006. Mrs. Holladay's citation reads, "Her dedicated efforts have helped bring well-deserved recognition to some of history’s most talented female artists."White House photo by Paul Morse.


Wilhelmina Cole Holladay's patronage has greatly benefited the American arts through her founding the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Holladay and husband, Wallace F. Holladay, began collecting work by women artists in the 1960s. The core collection resided in the Holladay home. By the late 1970s as the collection grew, Mrs. Holladay's first thought was to donate the works to an existing art museum. At the recommendation of National Endowment for the Arts Chairman, Nancy Hanks, Mrs. Holladay decided to devote her energies and resources to creating a museum that would showcase women artists.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts was incorporated in November 1981 as a private, non-profit. The Holladay collection of approximately 500 works by women and Mrs. Holladay's personal library form the foundation of the museum's permanent collection of more than 3,000 works dating from the Renaissance to the present. During its first five years, NMWA operated from temporary offices with docent-led tours of the collection at the Holladay residence. Special exhibitions also were presented.

Mrs. Holladay's vision and her ability to motivate others to share that vision resulted in an ambitious capital campaign to purchase and restore a landmark building in downtown Washington, DC. The former Masonic headquarters, a 78,810-square-foot Washington landmark near the White House, was refurbished in accordance with the highest design, museum, and security standards. It won numerous architectural awards. After years of tireless effort and $17 million in funds raised privately, the museum officially opened to the public in 1987 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mrs. Barbara Bush.

In creating the museum, Mrs. Holladay also established the foremost library and research center dedicated to art by women, and an arts education program that reaches diverse audiences throughout the country. Additionally, NMWA has firmly established itself as a venue for exhibitions and important literary, film, and musical presentations, which have received critical acclaim. The museum is a national institution with a network of members in all 50 states because of Mrs. Holladay's determination to engage people across the nation as well as countries around the globe. National Museum of Women in the Arts reaches out beyond Washington through state and international committees and promoting cross-cultural awareness and understanding.

Source: National Endowment for the Arts

     © 2016 Texas State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts