Meet Dalila Scruggs, The Harvard Grad Making History as the First Augusta Savage Curator for the Smithsonian


March 19, 2024

The Harvard alumna will begin her work for the Smithsonian on April 22.

Dalila Scruggs has been named the first-ever Augusta Savage Curator of African American art for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, ARTnews reports. In this new role, Scruggs will be responsible for collecting artworks from African American artists that celebrate the range and depth of Black culture. 

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The position is the first of its kind for the Smithsonian and was named in honor of the Harlem Renaissance artist Augusta Savage. Savage was a renowned sculptor and teacher who used her work to battle discrimination against women and African Americans. Savage dedicated her life to expanding educational and professional opportunities for Black artists. In 1932, she founded the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem, she was a cofounder of the Harlem Artists Guild that secured employment for Black artists and in 1937, she established and was the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center. The Augusta Savage Curator position was funded by a five-million-dollar endowment gift from anonymous donors who requested the role be named after Savage to further elevate her legacy and contributions to art.

As the first Augusta Savage Curator, Scruggs will help shape the museum’s exhibition program and collecting priorities as they relate broadly to African American art. She will also contribute to “American Voices and Visions,” a major cross-departmental initiative to comprehensively reinstall the museum’s collection. Scruggs is a Harvard and Cornell graduate who, like Savage before her, has experience in artistic education. She is a graduate of both Harvard University and Cornell University with experiences across a range of artistic media, including photography, painting, sculpture, and prints from the 19th and 20th centuries. Prior to taking this position, Scruggs was the curator for photography and prints at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. In 2020, she was a guest curator at the Brooklyn Museum. She has also written articles, including “Activism in Exile: Elizabeth Catlett’s Mask for Whites” for the American Art Journal, and has contributed to books such as Brooklyn Museum: Highlights and The Awe of the Arctic: A Visual History, the latter for the New York Public Library.

“I am delighted to welcome Dalila Scruggs to SAAM as the inaugural Augusta Savage Curator of African American Art,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “SAAM is home to one of the most significant collections of African American art in the world, and I am so pleased that Dr. Scruggs will bring fresh, thoughtful analysis to these works that evoke themes both universal and specific to the African American and the American experience.”


Alt text: Meet Dalila Scruggs, A Harvard Grad Making History As The First Augusta Savage Curator for the Smithsonian / Photo credit: Smithsonian

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