Jacqueline “Jackie” Copeland, the former executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, and a longtime, passionate advocate for the visual arts, died Wednesday at Mercy Medical Center of complications from cancer. She was 76.
“Throughout her life, she not only curated art but also cultivated love, forged friendships and nurtured knowledge within us all. As an award-winning museum educator, cherished colleague, devoted mother, loving wife, and guardian of African-American art, her legacy shines brightly,” Copeland’s family said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
Copeland, who most recently was chair of the Maryland State Arts Council, spent three decades working for major museums nationwide and studying every aspect of how successful arts institutions operate. She took over leadership of the Lewis Museum in 2019.
At the time Copeland described her appointment as “the capstone of my career because it brings together my passion for the community and my passion for art and history.”
A talented and innovative curator, Copeland spent three decades working for some of the largest museums in the U.S., including a 15-year stint at the Walters Art Museum, where she was co-director of education and 10 years at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Copeland was instrumental in getting the once-ailing Lewis Museum back on track over her tenure. But after 18 months as executive director, Copeland said she resigned after “the board told me it wanted to go in a different direction with the museum’s leadership.”
In 2021 she became chairwoman of the Maryland State Arts Council, which during the pandemic awarded more than $12 million in emergency funds to more than 1,600 artists and cultural groups.
The acclaimed photographer Dawoud Bey, wrote in a social media post that Copeland was a “tireless and brilliant culture and institutional worker” with whom he had collaborated twice — once at the Walker, and once at the Walters.
“Jackie was a real advocate for making the museum space a more inclusive one for young people and others often excluded from the institutional equation,” Bey wrote.