NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 20, 2021)—On Tuesday, April 20, at the quarterly board of trustees meeting, Dr. Susan H. Edwards, Executive Director and CEO of the Frist Art Museum since 2004, notified the board members of her plans to retire within the year. The museum’s board will now begin the process of selecting her successor.
In her remarks, Dr. Edwards said, “As the Frist is always in a state of becoming, it is difficult to pinpoint a good moment to step down. During our 20th anniversary year, it seems an opportune moment to transition to the next generation of leadership. Serving the community, the mission, and the field in this position has been rewarding on every level. I remain ever grateful.”
Dr. Edwards has led the Frist Art Museum (formerly the Frist Center for the Visual Arts) through the past 17 years during which time the organization grew in stature and importance in the national and international art world as well as in acceptance and relevance locally. “Susan Edwards has elevated Nashville’s museum in ways we could only imagine in our early days,” said Frist Art Museum Chairman Billy Frist. “Not only has she made the presentation of the visual arts and discourse surrounding them diverse and accessible during her time at the museum, she also changed lives and Nashville in the process. We are grateful she is giving us time to consider our next steps thoughtfully as we look for someone to take the helm, build on the existing strengths of the institution, and continue to lead us into a promising future.”
In the meeting, Dr. Edwards said she is fully committed to working with Frist Art Museum leadership to ensure a smooth transition into the organization’s next evolutionary chapter.
“As the second director of the Frist, I was given a rare opportunity in my profession—to pick up the baton and take a young art institution through the critical years of establishing its reputation for excellence and relevance,” said Dr. Edwards. “Fulfilling the institutional mandates would have been impossible without an extraordinary board, a tremendously committed and talented staff, and a corps of generous volunteers and supporters dedicated to changing the world—and perhaps ourselves—by what we do at the Frist Art Museum. Now, almost two decades later, change remains a constant, including in the museum world. From its inception, the visionary founders put the museum at the forefront of so much of the exciting work now taking place including the ongoing commitment to and full embrace of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. The decision to eschew a collection was a foundational tenet that set the museum on a sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding path, allowing us to bring a wide range of regional artists and world cultures to Nashville,” Dr. Edwards continued.
During Dr. Edwards’ tenure, the Frist was awarded accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums and has presented more than 225 critically acclaimed and popular exhibitions. Those exhibitions range from The Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay to Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, which toured nationally, and the current Picasso. Figures from the Musée National Picasso-Paris. During her time as director, she also served as curator for many exhibitions, including Vesna Pavlovic: Projected Histories, William Eggleston: Anointing the Overlooked, Claudio Parmiggiani: Dematerialization, Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation (co-curated by Dr. Edwards and Ciona Rouse, opening July 2021), and was a contributor to many museum publications.
Edwards earned BA and MA degrees at the University of South Carolina and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. Prior to leading the Frist Art Museum, she held positions at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Hunter College, and served as executive director at the Katonah Museum of Art. She is a past board member of the Association of Art Museum Directors. In 2011, Dr. Edwards was decorated with the rank of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Government. A widely respected expert in American art and photography, Edwards has organized exhibitions, published, lectured, and taught at the college level in both subject areas.