Detroit native named American Visionary Art Museum director

March 23, 2022 GMT

BALTIMORE (AP) — The head of an acclaimed outdoor art project in Detroit has been appointed the second director of the Baltimore-based American Visionary Art Museum.

Jenenne Whitfield, president and CEO of the Heidelberg Project, was named to her new post Wednesday and will start Sept. 6, The Baltimore Sun reported. She’ll succeed Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, the museum’s founder who is leaving after 27 years.

Whitfield, 60, was picked from a pool of more than 140 applicants. She said she did not apply herself but was nominated by someone else. Initially uninterested in leaving Detroit where she was born and raised, she said that changed after she toured the museum alone.

“I spent three hours inside, and the rest is history,” Whitfield told the newspaper. “The way Rebecca had assembled the collection of works spoke so strongly to me. It made me understand exactly what she stood for.”

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“I thought, ‘I believe I can bring something to this museum.’”

Hoffberger is stepping down April 3 and will stay part-time through the summer to help with the transition. Museum officials said Chief Financial Officer Donna Katrinic will be at the helm through September.

“Jenenne is so sincere and respectful of what we do and who we are that her appointment is like an answer to prayer,” Hoffberger said. “I prayed the board would find someone who would be even better than me, and I think we’ve found that in her.”

Whitfield told The Sun she was fascinated when she turned her car onto Detroit’s Heidelberg Street in June 1993. An abandoned house was painted white with giant polka dots, while another had stuffed animals dangling from the rafters. A tree was adorned with clocks and even the road was painted.

She quit her job as a corporate loan officer within a year and helped the artist — and her now-husband — Tyree Guyton with his vision.

Despite opposition from city officials and neighbors over the years, the project has grown and won impressive accolades. It was also featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in publications including Time magazine and The New York Times.

Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, established in 1995, focuses on showcasing works created by self-taught and intuitive artists. Many experience mental illness or homelessness or are imprisoned. It has an annual attendance of about 115,000.