Mayor Bill de Blasio Names Tom Finkelpearl Cultural Affairs Commissioner

Tom Finkelpearl. (Photo: Stephen Yang)

Tom Finkelpearl. (Photo: Stephen Yang)

Mayor Bill de Blasio has tapped Tom Finkelpearl, the president and executive of the Queens Museum, to become his new commissioner of cultural affairs.

Mr. de Blasio announced the appointment today at the Queens Museum. The New York Times first reported the news this weekend.

Mr. Finkelpearl will be in charge of a $156 million budget and serve as the points person on the arts in the city. A resident of lower Manhattan, Mr. Finkelpearl has spent 12 years at the Queens Museum, where he hired community organizers to professionalize outreach efforts and emphasized the diversity of the local immigrant population surrounding the museum in Flushing Meadows, according to the Times. He previously worked at PS1.

Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Finkelpearl said today the administration would be taking a more populist approach to the arts, emphasizing that arts and culture should be viewed as more than an “economic engine.” Mr. Finkelpearl said he wanted to return a focus to the intrinsic and social value of the arts.

The Department of Cultural Affairs was among a handful of agencies that remained without a commissioner more than three months into the de Blasio administration before today.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg showered money on the arts for 12 years, and many in the city’s expansive art world remain unsure about what exact approach Mr. de Blasio will take to the arts.

Mr. Finkelpearl and Mr. de Blasio have discussed certain shared principles, like making art available to every child citywide and improving arts education in public schools, according to the Times.

View the city’s full press release announcing the news below:

MAYOR DE BLASIO APPOINTS TOM FINKELPEARL AS DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER

NEW YORK— Mayor de Blasio today appointed Tom Finkelpearl as Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs. With more than 30 years of experience in museum management and arts education, Finkelpearl brings a deep commitment to inclusiveness and community engagement to the department and will be tasked with strengthening New York City’s vibrant cultural life across all five boroughs.

Over the past three decades, Finkelpearl has earned a reputation as one of the city’s most innovative leaders in his field and has developed an extensive record of enhancing New York City’s cultural institutions—particularly those located in the outer boroughs. As executive director of the Queens Museum, Tom has led efforts to make art and culture more accessible—by reaching out to broader segments of the local community and engaging local residents in new and innovative ways beyond the walls of the museum.

“With his decades of experience in fortifying the city’s cultural institutions, Tom has developed a deep understanding of the powerful role art and culture play in moving our city forward, and the necessity of increasing access to our creative landmarks for all New Yorkers,” said Mayor de Blasio. “With Tom at the helm of DCLA, I’m confident that New York City will not only continue to thrive as a global cultural hub, but also make the arts more accessible to New Yorkers in every neighborhood.”

“New York City is one of the most eclectic and culturally rich cities in the world, and that’s something that should be shared by all New Yorkers and tourists alike,” said incoming DCLA Commissioner Finkelpearl. “I could not be more proud to return to DCLA and lead the department into an era of ever-increasing openness – to nourish cultural activities in every corner of the city for all to enjoy. Our work is part of what distinguishes New York City as a cultural epicenter, and I look forward to working to fortify the already diverse offerings of the city’s arts and cultural life.”

“I applaud the selection of Tom Finkelpearl as the next Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. Throughout his career, he has proven to be a terrific administrator and a strong and thoughtful voice on culture and the arts. He knows the value of the arts, and he’ll bring a vision for growing culture in every borough that equals his knowledge of the agency and the cultural community in New York City,” said Majority Leader and Cultural Affairs Committee Chair Jimmy van Bramer.

“I am thrilled to hear of Tom Finkelpearl accepting the position of Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, as I know he will do a terrific job following a wonderful leaver, Kate Levin. Tom Finkelpearl has been a forceful and dynamic leader at the Queens Museum and also when he was at PS1. Tom will carry through the positive work with many arts organizations in the city and focus on arts education, like the work we have been doing at Studio in a School since 1977, he will champion art programs in schools as arts education is not a privilege; it is a right,” said Agnes Gund, President Emeritus, MoMA.

“What an inspired choice,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, a major cultural funder. “In Tom, the mayor has found a leader of extraordinary commitment to arts and communities. His record at the Queens Museum is exactly the kind of bridge-building the city needs in this arena. He is surely among the most creative and collaborative arts leaders in the country.”

“Mayor de Blasio’s appointment of Tom Finkelpearl is both inspired and practical. It is inspired in that the mayor and Tom hold a deeply felt commitment to share the richness of the arts and culture of New York City with every community, every adult and child, and every cultural institution in the five boroughs. It is practical in that this is what Tom has been doing so effectively his entire career as an arts and museum professional. Tom knows how to keep New York City the cultural capital of the world while engaging all New Yorkers in these vibrant and life-affirming opportunities,” said Brooklyn Museum Director and Cultural Institutions Group of New York City Chair Arnold Lehman.

“Tom is a loyal and committed champion of the arts throughout all of our boroughs. He fully understands the value and potential of the arts to enrich our communities and provide significant value to our City’s educational resources. Tom, as a former Head of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), is well versed in the complexities and unique qualities of our museums, as well as the myriad of performing arts and related organizations. As a long and valued friend to us all, we look forward to partnering with him and the de Blasio administration in the years to come,” said Metropolitan Museum of Art President Emily Rafferty.

About Tom Finkelpearl

A sculptor by training, Tom most recently served as executive director of the Queens Museum, where he completed a major expansion that doubled the size of the museum. Finkelpearl began his career in arts management at Long Island City’s PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in 1982, which he joined as a public affairs officer, and then went on to organize a number of major exhibitions. In 1990, he joined the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs as Director of the Percent for Art Program, overseeing more than 100 public art projects across all five boroughs. After serving as Executive Director of Programs at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine from 1996 to 1999, Finkelpearl returned to PS 1 as deputy director, where he helped manage its 2000 merger with MoMA. He became executive director of the Queens Museum in 2002.

Finkelpearl graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and received his Master of Fine Arts from Hunter College. He has taught courses on socially engaged art and community involvement in cultural institutions at Queens College, New York University, and the Rhode Island School of Design. A native of the Boston area, Finkelpearl is married to Eugenie Tsai, the contemporary art curator at the Brooklyn Museum.