Museum of Art Leadership Council launches DEAI Fund in honor of Lesley Wright

December 10, 2021 — After 22 years as director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art, Lesley Wright says she’s accomplished everything she hoped to do to set up the museum as an established entity on campus, in the state, and nationally among college museums.

In honor of Wright’s tenure and deep impact in elevating Grinnell College visual arts, the Grinnell College Museum of Art Leadership Council has established The Wright Fund for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Projects. Wright – who will be retiring at the end of the December – was touched by the gesture.

“It was very moving that they saw it as a chance to give back and do it in my name,” she says. “I’m not someone who seeks out the limelight but having my name on something like this is great because it will live on and evolve over time.”

Lesley Wright, director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art, joins Ben Hoekstra '19 and Nora Madrigal '19 in analyzing a Greek vase.
In this 2018 photo, Lesley Wright, director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art, joins Ben Hoekstra '19 and Nora Madrigal '19 in analyzing a Greek vase, housed in the museum’s collection. 

The staff of the Grinnell College Museum of Art will have an end-of-semester celebration honoring Wright on Saturday, Dec. 11. The event will be from 4-6 p.m. CST at the museum with Wright giving remarks at 4:15 p.m. 

An advisory body, the Museum of Art Leadership Council provides networking and mentoring opportunities, philanthropic contributions, and specific areas of expertise helpful to a college museum. Council members collectively committed more than $80,000 to begin and endow the Wright Fund, which will provide strategic and flexible resources for diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion projects and programming efforts.

“Under Lesley’s leadership, the museum has sought out works for the collection by BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other artists interested in social justice and social commentary,” says Keith Jantzen ’80, a College Trustee and member of the Leadership Council. “We thought this fund would be a wonderful way to celebrate Lesley’s substantial accomplishments while also supporting the next chapters of museum DEAI projects.”

Wright says diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in exhibitions and collections have long been an objective of the College, noting that former curator Kay Wilson began collecting work by artists of color before Wright arrived at Grinnell in 1999. The museum has continued to seek out a number of younger African American artists and in recent years began collecting contemporary art from Africa.

An awakening moment, however, occurred in spring 2019. Grinnell College was the first in the nation to open Reckoning with ‘The Incident’: John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural. Wilson, an African American, created the mural in Mexico during the 1950s to express his pain and horror of lynching.

“That exhibition was a moment of reckoning for us as a staff because we realized we hadn’t brought others into the planning,” Wright says “We were bestowing the exhibition upon others in a patronizing way. We took a giant step back, and Tilly Woodward (curator of academic and community outreach) started doing the hard work of getting people to sit down and talk about what the show was, their feelings about the topic, and ways students could take the lead in making that exhibition something meaningful and not painful. That changed my thinking around what you can do if you open yourself up and don’t try to control the conversation. That is a really critical piece of DEAI work.”

The Leadership Council foresees many potential uses of the Wright Fund, including securing exhibitions of art that center the experience of BIPOC and LGBTQ+; supporting teaching goals across the curriculum; and bringing BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and international artists to campus.

Scott Beth, left, and Keith Jantzen ’80
Scott Beth, left, and Keith Jantzen ’80, both members of the Grinnell College Museum of Art Leadership Council, spoke during a February 2020 College campaign event in San Francisco.  

“The museum’s collection, exhibitions, and activities can be the gateway to learning, cultural connections, and enjoyment for everyone who has ties to the College and the town of Grinnell,” says Scott Beth, a Leadership Council member. “We could also envision this fund potentially helping with an internship to support BIPOC and international students interested in museum work.”

Wright says she is retiring for a combination of professional and personal reasons. She will be succeeded by Susan Baley who will take over as the new museum director on Jan. 4. Baley currently serves as executive director of 108 Contemporary, a nonprofit community arts center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Wright said it’s a cliché, but it’s the people she will miss after retirement.

“The conversations, the excitement, and the projects forthcoming will be things I’ll miss,” she says. “I truly don’t think someone in my position should stay forever. I think turnover in leadership is really healthy. I’ve curated some great shows, and I loved being able to teach Grinnell students, but I think it’s time that we have someone with a fresh perspective come in, ask some hard questions, think about doing things differently, and move us to the next level.”

She says she appreciates the Leadership Council and their efforts to amplify DEAI projects.

“I’ve become a true believer in the Leadership Council’s advocacy for this museum,” Wright says. “As the director, it’s been invaluable as a group of people I can talk to strategically. They bring such a wealth of differing experience that I can throw any kind of issue question out there and get a really thoughtful conversation. They have become thought partners and champions of the museum.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

To learn more about the Wright Fund for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Projects, please contact Susan Kriegel, development assistant, at 866-850-1846 or

To support the Wright Fund, visit the College’s Make a Gift page and write in “Wright Fund” under Other.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.