The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) on July 12 revealed that it has named James D. Thornton to chair its board. Thornton, who is Black, is the first person of color to assume the role since the museum was established in 1914. A board member since 2004, he is the institution’s twenty-sixth chair and succeeds Clair Zamoiski Segal, who held the post for seven years and will remain on the board.
“I am extremely honored to follow in the footsteps of so many accomplished board chairs who played pivotal roles in establishing the Baltimore Museum of Art as a cultural anchor over the past 108 years,” said Thornton in a statement.
Thornton is the managing director of Thorwood Real Estate Group. He was previously vice president of Sears & Co., where he worked for twenty-seven years, and held multiple roles at MBNA Bank, including that of vice president. A lifetime member of the NAACP, Thornton is a noted philanthropist, having served as chairman of Talladega College’s board of trustees and president of the Harford County Caucus of African-American Leaders, and as a member of the Harford County Planning and Zoning Advisory Board and Judicial Planning Commission.
Thornton’s appointment to the role of BMA board chair comes as the museum struggles to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion within its walls. He is a member of the committee charged with finding a replacement for former BMA director Chris Bedford, who departed in June to lead the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Bedford, who is white and a longtime champion of diversity, on his departure echoed the sentiments of many Baltimore artists, telling local news station WBAL, “A sure-fire sign of success would be that the incoming director did not look like me.”
Thornton in a statement promised to continue pushing in the same direction. “My commitment is to continue to build on both our strong artistic program and our social equity and diversity work across the institution.”