Connecting the Atlanta community with art
As the director of the High Museum of Art, Rand Suffolk ’90 has transformed the Atlanta landmark into a stunning example of how art museums can truly reflect their communities, striking the delicate balance between progress and preservation.
“I see my role as that of the museum’s chief diversity officer, with four main pillars that inform everything we do: growth, inclusivity, collaboration and connectivity,” he explained. “I think the key for me was to change the museum from within and challenge the exclusivity that is typically associated with art and museum patronage.”
Suffolk first fell in love with art as a high school student in Rome, Italy, where his father was offered a job when Suffolk was 15. At Conn, he immersed himself in English courses and art history, then earned a master’s degree in art history from Bryn Mawr College.
Suffolk’s big break came when he was hired by the Hyde Collection, a hidden gem of an art museum in upstate New York, where he quickly worked his way up to director. After seven years at the Hyde, Suffolk caught the attention of the Philbrook Museum of Art, in Tulsa, Okla., and was recruited to serve as its director and CEO. In 2015, he accepted the director position at the High, arguably the most prominent institution of its kind in the southeast.
“For me, a big part of the attraction to this job is focusing on accessibility and creating new gateways for people to connect with their museum,” Suffolk said, emphasizing that the museum belongs to everybody in the city, not just to art collectors and the philanthropic class.
Suffolk and his team engage the city’s full spectrum of residents—regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic backgrounds—in ways that the High traditionally hasn’t been willing or able to use.
Since Suffolk took over, more than 60 percent of the museum’s exhibitions have highlighted or focused on artists of color, gay artists or women artists. And he is determined to continue that momentum.
“Every day, we come to work and ask ourselves, ‘What are we going to do to change Atlanta?’” Suffolk said. “‘What does it mean to be the place where all of Atlanta feels comfortable coming together? Where the richest of the rich can be with the poorest of the poor?’ Everybody from the LGBTQ rainbow can hang out with everybody from the ethnicity rainbow. Every day we work at being that place.”