When Lowery Stokes Sims was young, she became very interested in studio art. She was always drawing, and she honed her skills enough that she won the Catholic Youth Organization First Prize as a freshman in high school. When it came time to choose a college major, Dr. Sims decided on art history because it combined her love of the visual arts, history, and writing. Initially, she thought she would get a doctorate and teach, but as she was graduating, she was recruited by the Brooklyn Museum to work in their education department on a special project, taking donated art from the late, great Merton D. Simpson. This sparked an interest in museum education that she spent the rest of her career pursuing.
The next stop on Dr. Sims’ professional journey was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She joined the institution in 1970, and after a few years of working there, she realized that she could make an impact by helping build the collection. Dr. Sims began campaigning to receive a curatorial position, which was ultimately successful. The highlight of her time there was being selected as the acting curator of the 20th century department; she was in charge of the whole department, and it was at this time that any doubt she had about the field went away. Notably, she was the first African American curator at the Met.
Dr. Sims left the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1999 to become the executive director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. She was promoted to president in 2005 and to adjunct curator in 2006. In 2007, Dr. Sims became the chief curator of the Museum of Arts and Design. She retired in 2015.
Outside of her work, Dr. Sims frequently sought other ways to expand her reach. She authored pieces like “New Territories, Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art,” co-authored books like “Wifredo Lam and the International Avant-Garde, 1923-1982,” and coordinated exhibitions like “Challenge of the Modern: African-American Arts, 1925-1945.” She also lectured and taught curatorial and museum training internship courses at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, which led her to be appointed the Kurt Varnedoe Distinguished Professor of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 2018, and served as a visiting critic and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Hawaii.
To prepare for her endeavors, Dr. Sims earned a Bachelor of Arts in art history from Queens College, a Master of Arts in art history from Johns Hopkins University, a Master of Philosophy from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, a PhD in art history from the City University of New York, and a Doctor of Arts from Brown University. She later received an honorary Doctor of Arts from the Moore College of Art and Design and an honorary LHD from the Maryland Institute College of Art.
As a testament to her hard work and dedication, Dr. Sims received numerous accolades over the years. Some that stand out include the Mather Award for Art Criticism from the College Art Association, the Trailblazers Award from the Brooklyn Museum, the Distinguished Service in the Visual Arts Award from Art Table, and the Distinguished Feminist Award.