Amy Sadao, the Daniel W. Dietrich II Director of Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), received ArtTable’s 2014 New Leadership Award at the organization’s recent benefit in New York City. ArtTable, a nonprofit group dedicated to advancing professional women’s leadership in the visual arts, honored Sadao for her work at the ICA and at Visual AIDS, where she was executive director prior to her arrival at the University in 2012.
Each year, ArtTable presents the New Leadership Award to a woman in the earlier stages of her career who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the visual arts field. When asked what made Sadao most deserving of this year’s award, ArtTable Executive Director Ada Ciniglio cited “her bold choices in the name of progress for the arts” and “her use of the arts to connect her community with important issues.”
Under Sadao’s leadership, Visual AIDS gained momentum as an organization that supports HIV-positive artists and provoked dialogue about the virus at a time when the political climate made HIV/AIDS a controversial topic.
Sadao’s overarching belief in art’s social and political relevance guides her leadership of the ICA, as well. On the ICA website, she urges the community to “engage with what is difficult and daring!” She also states that “a work of art has the power to transform people, and through people, the world. We do the work we do every day with this goal: that the art you experience at ICA will change the way you see and think about the world.”
Among the most difficult, daring, and perception-altering exhibitions Sadao has overseen at the ICA—and one which the museum’s website calls “the most ambitious exhibition ICA has ever presented”—was last fall’s “Jason Rhoades, Four Roads.” Though Rhoades had been widely exhibited in Europe, his provocative, seemingly chaotic installations had rarely been seen in the United States outside of Los Angeles. In keeping with the ICA’s long tradition of exhibiting under-recognized artists, “Four Roads” was the first U.S. museum exhibition of Rhoades’ work, which is now attracting wider acclaim.
Ciniglio applauds the “true, fearless leadership” that Sadao has aptly demonstrated in taking “risks and leaps” such as these, which Ciniglio sees as helping “advance women’s leadership in the field of the visual arts.”
Sadao herself sees the award as not only recognizing her past accomplishments but also challenging her “to continue a practice of creative leadership, making our field of professional women in the arts deeper and wider.”
Originally published on May 8, 2014