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Toledo Museum of Art names 2022-2024 Brian P. Kennedy Leadership Fellows

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has named Sophie Ong and Ahmad Rafiei as the 2022-2024 Brian P. Kennedy Leadership Fellows. The fellowship combines curatorial and executive-level leadership responsibilities and provides direct experience in strategy and policy development, curatorial and programming leadership, outreach and community engagement, board development, philanthropy stewardship and financial and resource management. 

Fellows must have completed their graduate studies within five years of applying for the program and specialize in one of TMA’s collection priorities. Ong and Rafiei will focus on the art of the Middle Ages with particular attention to the arts of the Islamic World.  

TMA established the innovative, experiential fellowship in 2011 during the tenure of then-director Brian P. Kennedy to train the next generation of art museum leaders. Several past Kennedy Fellows (formerly known as Mellon Fellows) have gone on to become museum directors, including Adam M. Levine, TMA’s Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director and CEO. 

“Sophie and Ahmad bring a range of experiences in addition to art historical expertise to this fellowship program,” said Levine. “Throughout their careers, they have sought to tell more expansive art historical stories, and we look forward to their thoughtful perspectives as they shift their gaze to leadership.” 

Sophie Ong first came to TMA in 2012 as a Smith College curatorial intern and returned in August 2020 as the Hirsch curatorial fellow. While completing her doctoral work in art history at Rutgers University, she co-curated three exhibitions at TMA — most recently Bestowing Beauty: Masterpieces from Persian Lands — and curated the exhibitions Chameleon Effects: Glass (Un)Defined and Momentum Intersection 2022. She also helped initiate the Museum’s land acknowledgement, supervised a reinstallation budget, oversaw summer interns and acquired artworks ranging from objects created in 15th century Ethiopia to contemporary jewelry. As an art historian specializing in Northern European art produced from 1100-1500 with a secondary concentration in Islamic Art, Ong played a pivotal role in reshaping TMA’s Cloister Gallery.   

“I sought to expand the presentation of the art of the Middle Ages chronologically, culturally, geographically and materially,” said Ong of her work in the Cloister Gallery. “Strategic acquisitions reveal previously untold stories. The objects in the Cloister Gallery now represent a greater breadth of European production from Frankish glass to Venetian lace, presented alongside works from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. I am excited to continue supporting TMA’s strategic plan and commitment to quality, community and belonging in this new role.” 

Ahmad Rafiei holds a Doctorate in Fine Arts from Texas Tech University, specializing in Safavid art and architecture (1500-1722). He also earned a master’s degree in art research from the University of Shahed in Tehran, Iran with a concentration in Seljuk art and architecture (1037-1194). His dissertation focuses on the fungibility and mutability of design, material and concept of art objects as essential factors that inseparably intertwine different geographies, cultures and historical frameworks. 

Having published in multiple languages and taught in both the U.S. and Iran, Rafiei’s perspective of Islamic art history and knowledge of the stylistic development of object design will contribute to TMA’s reinstallation of its collection. 

“In addition to my theoretical knowledge as an international scholar ofPersian designs and motifs, I have practical knowledge — particularly in Persiancarpets — as generations of my family were active in the art of carpet design,” said Rafiei. “I am drawn to the equity and inclusion being fostered by the ToledoMuseum of Art and look forward to participating in various ways with the Museum's programs and research.” 

Past Kennedy Fellows and their current roles include:

  • Lauren Applebaum, Jim and Betty Becher curator of American art, North Carolina Museum of Art
  • Alyssa Greenberg, community engagement director, Toledo Opera
  • Christina Larson, assistant director, University of Miami Center for the Humanities 
  • Adam M. Levine, Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director, Toledo Museum of Art
  • Halona Norton-Westbrook, director and CEO, Honolulu Museum of Art 

“The training I had as part of the fellowship at TMA has stayed with me,” said Norton-Westbrook. “I have a strong framework of what worked well, such as involving the community, being art-centric and doing things that really utilize the intellectual resources of our staff to highlight the collection in new ways.”