Barbara Hunt McLanahan died last week after an inspirational battle against pancreatic cancer. We knew Barbara as a joy-filled, loving, caring friend who packed every minute she lived with passion and purpose. The art world knew Barbara, according to the New York Times, as an “influential arts administrator.” Visual AIDS, knew her as “a force of nature, an incredible spirit, and an important friend and mentor to many in our community.” The Children’s Museum of the Arts remembered Barbara as “a dear friend, beloved colleague and most of all a passionate advocate for the arts and artists.”
Barbara’s most important role was as wife and mother to Michael and Jade McLanahan respectively. It somehow seemed fitting that this citizen of the world came home to the Catskills to be buried last week, just a week shy of the Independence Day holiday weekend when she and Michael first travelled here together the better part of two decades ago.
At the time of her death, Barbara was the Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of the Arts. As noted in the Times, which covered her passing extensively, she had also been the Executive Director of Judd Foundation, Executive Director of Artists Space and Visual AIDS in New York and of Camerawork Gallery + Darkroom in London.
Raised in England, of Asian descent and converted to Judaism, Barbara was a citizen of the world. In England she served on various boards, including that of the African and Asian Visual Artists Archive and the Leisure Services Committee of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Additionally, she sat on the board of Arts Benefit All Coalition Alternative at Satellite Academy.
Barbara moved to New York in 1996, and in 1997 and was hired as executive director of Visual AIDS, a post she held until 2000. Among her legacies there is “Postcards From the Edge,” a fund-raiser she started in 1998 that features postcardsize works by established and emerging artists that are sold anonymously at a low cost. The concept has become a staple of arts organizations around the country. In 2006, she was named Chevalier of L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Republic of France.
Barbara was remembered fondly and with respect by other leaders in the art world. “She was always keen to bring people together,” Antoine Vigne, an arts writer and longtime friend, said by email to the Times. “Be it in Venice or London or Paris, there were always contacts she would share, and ideas that would create links between institutions.” William Floyd, President of the Board of Directors at CMA, told the Times “Barbara was a remarkable leader, truly a force of nature: dynamic, brilliant, passionate and above all deeply devoted to her family, of which she considered CMA to be a part — and we, her. She has left an indelible mark that can be seen in every aspect of the museum.”
To know Barbara was to love her and to be loved by her. Just 55 at the time of her death, she and her family enjoyed a home in the Catskills, at every opportunity. There she enjoyed cooking, skiing, gardening and spending time with family and friends. She and Michael supported numerous organizations and as in all other aspects of her life, those who knew her, loved her. In addition to her husband Michael and daughter Jade, Barbara is survived by a brother Andy.
We’ll remember her, as will her colleagues at the Children’s Museum of the Arts, “for her off the charts energy, personal warmth, contagious laugh and her rigor in fundraising and advocating for the arts.”