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Emily Neff

Rapid-Fire Q&A With Emily Neff

Following an international search, Emily Ballew Neff has been appointed as SAMA's new Kelso Director starting January 18, 2022. Neff most recently served as the Executive Director of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, where, among her numerous accomplishments, she spearheaded the effort to relocate the museum to downtown Memphis to enhance its role within the city's civic and cultural core. She previously served as the director and chief curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma and as the founding curator of American painting and sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Neff brings extensive experience in community building and fundraising, and a long history of scholarship, especially in American Art. 

Get to know Emily Neff with our rapid-fire Q&A:

What are you mostly excited about starting your new job? 

Digging in! I think that SAMA has great DNA, a terrific board and staff, and a vibrant, growing community that has benefited by all of SAMA's wonderful offerings. I am so glad to be in a position to learn from the work that has been done already and to help write SAMA's next chapter. And of course, I'd like to meet everyone in town and every visitor who comes through the door.

Where do you find inspiration? 

You will not be surprised to hear this, but art museums are my happy place. I never feel more at home than when I'm walking through the museum surrounded by 5,000 years of human creativity from across so many continents. It is a reminder that we are all just passing through and leaving artistic marks for future generations to likewise ponder, wonder, question, and be inspired by. There is a great comfort in that since it is about the ways in which we are all connected to one another across time and across space.

What are the three things you can't live without? 

I've answered a similar question before and, apparently, my answer: "coffee, chocolate, and four-legged furry friends” is nearly identical to everyone else's! And so, in an attempt to offer something a little different, might say: hiking/the great outdoors; art (that goes without saying); and family/friends—I'm hoping you won't notice that I've actually given you six things I can't live without!

What book is on your bedside table?

Isabel Wilkerson's Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. I usually read non-fiction, and this book is a timely reframing of notions of race in the US by looking at "caste" more broadly, with comparative examinations of Nazi Germany, India, and American society.

Texas or Memphis BBQ? 

That's easy. Texas for beef, especially brisket; Memphis for pork, especially pulled pork and ribs. I recognize they are a religion in both instances and I've been fortunate indeed to be in a position to worship both.