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Esther McGowan, who since 2017 has served as executive director of Visual AIDs, a contemporary arts organization committed to raising awareness about HIV and AIDS, will leave her role at the end of May, Artnews reports. She will join the not-for-profit photography foundation Aperture in June as director of development, charged with leading the organization’s fundraising drive ahead of its 2024 move to a new home.

McGowan arrived to Visual AIDS in 2012 as deputy director. During her tenure there, she significantly elevated the organization’s profile, increasing its staff and shepherding its move to a larger space that is home to its archives. Under her leadership, the Visual AIDs focused on HIV+ women, whose stories and plight have historically been overlooked. Collaborating with via major institutions—among them MoMA PS1, the Queens Museum, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Brooklyn Museum—the organization held monthly Women’s Empowerment Art Therapy Workshops, which were founded by artist and activist Shirlene Cooper. McGowan also secured the partnership of international institution’s for Visual AIDS’s long-running annual Day With(out) Art program, and inaugurated a new research fellowship and a series of artist-centered oral histories. Under her guidance, the organization expanded its publishing roster, in 2021 releasing the first monograph focused on the work of experimental mixed-media artist Darrel Ellis, who died in 1992 of AIDS-related causes at the age of thirty-three.

“We are excited to continue the challenging work that Esther has initiated, and at the same time want to express how much she will be missed by the Board, Staff, and Visual AIDS community,” wrote the board of Visual AIDS in a statement. “Throughout she has demonstrated a deep commitment to the organization’s core mission and to its vibrant community of artists and activists.” A search for her replacement is expected to commence shortly.


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