Women Leaders: Rhea Combs, Director of Curatorial Affairs, Nat’l Portrait Gallery

Our spring art preview featured 20 women cultural leaders in Washington, D.C. We wanted to amplify their voices in our online newsletters, spotlighting each of them individually. Our Thursday May 12 newsletter features Rhea Combs, Director of Curatorial Affairs, National Portrait Gallery.

THE GEORGETOWNER: DC should have a kind of “spring awakening” after two long years of Covid. What are you most looking forward to for your institution this season?

RHEA COMBS: There is so much to be thankful for as we cautiously emerge from a difficult few years and enter a new phase in life. I look forward to the exciting exhibitions we have to come at the National Portrait Gallery. Topping the list is the museum’s national triennial, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. It opens in April and really speaks to this moment that we lived. [See our story on this competition here.]

GEORGETOWNER: What are you most proud of having accomplished in your position?

CR: I am proud that we are expanding the permanent collection and revisiting the stories we tell through our permanent collection. It’s important to stay true to our mission by highlighting through story and portraiture some of the most significant people in our lives. I want this organization to be an inspiration to all generations — past, present and future. To do this, we must ensure that the portraits reflect the diversity of this nation. Together, we are attached to this notion and that makes me extremely proud.

GEORGETOWNER: What led you to become a leader in your organization?

CR: Leaders set the tone of an organization. I was inspired by the women in my family who always found ways to be resourceful and creative. They asked thoughtful questions of each of us. I carry this attitude into the workplace – constantly looking for ways that will allow the organization to grow by asking if we are doing something because it makes sense for the organization or if we are just accepting something because it has “always been done this way”.

GEORGETOWNER: Tell us a bit about your professional background and your inspirations along the way?

CR: I remember during my graduate studies, one of my advisers constantly pushed me towards teaching, but I was clear that I wanted to work in museums. He didn’t understand why, he thought he had a doctorate. meant teaching. I used this questioning as fuel and I made sure to have as many opportunities as possible, in all types of museums. I think it helped me better understand and appreciate the intricacies of how the different parts make up the whole.

For more information on the National Portrait Gallery, go here.

KeywordscurationNational Portrait GalleryOutwin Boocher Portrait CompetitionWomen Cultural Leaders of DC

Julia P. Cluff