Curator Joy Bivins Is Named New Director of the Schomburg Center

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Joy Bivins, who joined the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem last year, has been named director of the center.

Bivins joined the Schomburg — a division of the New York Public Library and a leading repository for archival materials related to African, African diaspora and African American life, history and culture — in 2020 as an associate director of collections and research services. Before that, she had served as the chief curator of the International African American Museum, in Charleston, S.C., and the director of curatorial affairs at the Chicago History Museum.

“The skill set that Joy has is absolutely critical for the moment that we are in,” said William Kelly, the public library’s Andrew W. Mellon director of the research libraries. “She has been such a caring, inspirational leader over the last extremely challenging year.”

The Schomburg’s previous director, Kevin Young, a poet and editor, left when the Smithsonian named him the director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bivins was selected after what the New York Public Library described as “an exhaustive national search.” She will begin serving as director on June 21, becoming the first woman to run the center since Jean Blackwell Hutson, who served as its leader from 1948 to 1980.

The Schomburg Center — named for Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a Puerto Rican-born Black scholar whose personal library was bought by the center in 1926 — was named a national historic landmark in 2017. It holds over 11 million items including books, manuscripts, photographs and the personal archives and papers of figures like Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Sonny Rollins, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Ann Petry and Malcolm X.


Among her first tasks, Bivins said, will be supervising the center’s transition back to prepandemic hours. Now, its reading rooms and its galleries — exhibiting the shows “Traveling While Black: A Century of Pleasure & Pain & Pilgrimage” and “Subversion & The Art of Slavery Abolition” — are open two days a week by appointment.

Bivins says she also wants to add new items from places like the Caribbean and Latin America to the center’s collection so that it more closely reflects the diversity of the African diaspora, and to make those materials more accessible to a wider array of people.

Her appointment comes at an important time for the Schomburg: Bivins says she believes the center now has a “unique” opportunity to facilitate conversation about the past year — including about the Black Lives Matter movement — partly by providing historical context for more recent events.

“Our history is about documenting the histories of Black peoples, the cultures of Black peoples,” she said. “It’s a time for our collections to shine, for the work scholars have done here to really be highlighted.”

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