Jessica May with the late David Driskell in 2019. Photo courtesy of Portland Museum of Art

Jessica May, the Portland Museum of Art’s deputy director and chief curator since 2017, is leaving the museum to spend more time with her family and pursue personal interests. She will be replaced by current European art curator and director of academic engagement Shalini Le Gall.

“I felt like this was a time when the museum was ready for a period of growth, and I’m ready for a period of growth. I’m looking forward to spending time caring for my son,” May said. “I am hopeful that I am in a position where I can do some thinking, some writing and some exploring. I will be looking at new opportunities in the future.”

May’s last day will be “close to Labor Day,” said museum spokesman Graeme Kennedy, giving the museum and Le Gall time to make the transition. Le Gall joined the PMA early this year after five years at the Colby College Museum of Art as the curator of academic programs.

May, who first joined the PMA in 2012, has pushed the institution to acquire and exhibit a more diverse collection, including works like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Tim Rollins & K.O.S., “PEOPLE LIKE US” by Jeffrey Gibson, “Barrel Basket” by Theresa Secord, “Occupation of Alexandria” by Kara Walker and “Ghetto Wall #2” by David Driskell, according to a news release Thursday from the museum.

“The impact Jessica has had on the museum and our community cannot be adequately expressed, but visitors will see it for years to come through exhibitions she has planned, acquisitions she has added to our collection and the inclusive and welcoming spirit of the PMA,” museum director Mark Bessire said in a statement.

Exhibitions from May’s time at the PMA include “Richard Estes’ Realism,” “Nan Goldin” and “N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives,” which ran from October to January and was co-curated by May and Christine B. Podmaniczky of the N. C. Wyeth Collections and Historic Properties at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Pennsylvania.

May also helped the museum develop a free outdoor public art display, the David E. Shaw and Family Sculpture Park.

“We have grown so much during my tenure there, and under the leadership of Mark Bessire,” May said. “We have given ourselves permission to think about how a museum can be authentically part of its community and strive toward excellence.”

May oversaw the multi-year project “Your Museum, Reimagined,” which involved reinstalling the PMA’s collection and the museum’s first collection catalog, digitizing nearly 20,000 of the museum’s works of art and constructing the Osher Study Room, which provides the public with a space for “unprecedented access to the PMA collection,” according to the museum’s website.

“It’s so bittersweet,” May said. “I am enormously proud of (the PMA) and the team that we’ve built. It’s such an amazing organization.”

Staff Writer Emma Sorkin can be reached at: [email protected]


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