The dealer David Zwirner has hired Ebony L. Haynes, a gallerist who is Black, as the director of a new exhibition program and commercial gallery space in Manhattan, for which she plans to employ an all-Black staff.
“While you could argue that strides have been made on the artist side, the art world acts almost shamefully on the employment side,” Mr. Zwirner said, speaking of equal opportunities for people of color. “Something has to happen.”
At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness about the scarcity and struggles of Black-run galleries, the new Zwirner enterprise represents a strong commitment from a mega dealer.
Mr. Zwirner said he began talking in January with Ms. Haynes, a former director at Martos Gallery on the Lower East Side, about becoming a director at his Chelsea gallery. But when Ms. Haynes described her vision for a kunsthalle with an all-Black staff, Mr. Zwirner said he decided to give Ms. Haynes her own separate space.
“She really presented herself to me in conversation as a thinker and an activist, and not just an art dealer,” Mr. Zwirner said. He added that Ms. Haynes will “have full autonomy” in programming exhibitions. She will also be part of the larger gallery operation, sharing in discussions with the other directors about signing and managing artists.
Ms. Haynes, who starts on Oct. 1, said she was excited about the possibilities. “There aren’t enough places of access — especially in commercial galleries — for Black staff and for people of color to gain experience,” she said. “I want to make sure that I provide a space full of opportunities and encourage them.”
The gallery’s name, location and initial exhibitions have yet to be determined. Reflective of her curatorial practice and interests, Ms. Haynes will show not only Black artists, but also those from other backgrounds. Among the artists she mentioned are Nora Turato as well as Nikita Gale, Kandis Williams and Cameron Rowland, who are Black.
Ms. Haynes said she expected the gallery to open sometime next spring and to feature about four exhibitions per year, with each accompanied by a publication. The gallery will also have a paid internship program for Black students.
At Martos, Ms. Haynes was responsible for the group exhibitions “Invisible Man” and “Ebsploitation.” A guest professor and critic at the Yale School of Art, Ms. Haynes this summer started the monthly Black Art Sessions, which provide free classes to Black students interested in learning about the commercial art world.
Mr. Zwirner said he wants the space to attract more young people of color into the professional pipeline, a problem museums have so far addressed more actively than commercial galleries. “Hopefully people can join the space and get poached and work in the art world,” said Mr. Zwirner, citing how the Studio Museum in Harlem has paved a way. “We don’t really have that incubator, so I was very interested in that part.
“Change can only happen with colleagues of color at the table, having the important conversations about the direction of the gallery,” Mr. Zwirner added. “We will learn so much.”