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Underground Museum looks at Philadelphia curator

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Meg Onli will become director and curator of the Underground Museum in Los Angeles, co-directing the museum with director and chief operations officer Cristina Pacheco.

Onli joins the museum of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, where she was a curator. Pacheco has been co-interim director and chief operations officer since 2020 and has been on the board of the Underground Museum since 2015.

“The co-leader model feels like the future,” Onli said in a recent phone interview. “UM has always been a collective, so working together is a matter of course.”

In 2012, artists Noah and Karon Davis established the Underground Museum in four converted storefronts in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles. Three years later, Noah Davis died. Throughout its existence, the museum has been a meeting place for local people and a destination for the dark arts. Onli said she was excited to continue the couple’s legacy.

“The practice of curators was one of the things that drew me to UM,” says Onli. “The way Noah made shows was in line with mine, shows that were big and daring and not limited.”

Onli has been interested in race and representation throughout her career. She is the creator of the Black Visual Archive, a website dedicated to writing about black visual culture. She is also the first person to win the figure skating prize, which is given to black curators, artists and scientists.

“What Noah did was really take a black lens, not just on black art, but on all kinds of different art,” Onli said. “For me, in anticipation of UM, I want to ask: what does a black lens look like in all kinds of different oeuvres, not just black American artists?”

Onli will start the job on December 1. She said one of her first priorities will be to spend time in Arlington Heights.

“I’m looking forward to going into the neighborhood and seeing how UM fits in,” says Onli. “Who are the people who come to the museum, but also who are the shopkeepers?”

Pacheco called the magic of the place and the importance of connection “even if those things are lacking in the rest of the world,” she said in a statement. “I hope our museum continues to demonstrate the power of art.”

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