The Board of Trustees of the Baltimore Museum of Art has elected James D. Thornton as the new Chairman of the Board. Thornton, who is black, is the first person of color to lead the board.
“I am extremely honored to follow in the footsteps of so many successful board chairs who have played a key role in establishing the Baltimore Museum of Art as a cultural anchor over the past 108 years,” Thornton said in a statement.
Thornton is a member of the committee tasked with searching for the museum’s next director to replace former director Chris Bedford, who stepped down in June to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
A BMA board member since 2004, Thornton has served on a range of other committees, including finance, corporate giving, earned income, building and capital planning, major gifts, compensation and governance.
In addition to his work with the BMA, Thornton is a philanthropist and businessman.
For 27 years, Thornton worked for Sears Roebuck and Company, serving as vice president of the company. Thornton also held multiple positions at MBNA banka, including senior executive vice president. Today, Thornton is the managing director of Thorwood Real Estate Group LLC.
Throughout his philanthropic career, Thornton has served as chairman of the Talladega College Board of Trustees; president of the Harford County African American Leadership Caucus; and a member of the Harford County Planning and Zoning Advisory Board and the Judicial Nominating Commission. He is also a lifetime member of the NAACP.
Thornton will succeed former board chair Claire Zamoyski Segal. Segal, who was recently selected by the Baltimore Sun as a 2022 inductee into the Business and Civics Hall of Fame, has served as BMA board chair for seven years and will remain a board member.
Along with Thornton’s appointment came the addition of three new board members: Virginia K. Adams, Sam Callard, and Paul L. Oostburg Sans.
Thornton’s appointment as chairman of the board comes amid calls for increased diversity, equity and inclusion at the BMA.
During his tenure as director of the BMA, Bedford sought to diversify the museum’s staff as well as the artists whose work the BMA exhibited. After Bedford announced his departure in February, local artists made calls for a black successor.
In an interview with WBAL, Bedford said, “A sure sign of success will be that the future director doesn’t look like me.”
The BMA announced in June that it had selected Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive and leadership consulting firm, to help find the museum’s next director.
Meanwhile, BMA Chief Curator Asma Naem and Chief Operating Officer Christine Dietze serve as co-directors.
Thornton said she will continue to support the museum’s goals of diversity and equity.
“My commitment is to continue to build on both our strong arts program and our institution-wide social justice and diversity work,” Thornton said in a statement. “This work to define the museum of the future will require unwavering commitment from my fellow board members and our dedicated staff and leadership. I am confident that with the continued support of our donors, patrons and visitors, we will lead this institution to greater achievements.”