A Veteran Leader in the New York LGBTQ Art Scene Has Been Appointed by the Mayor as the City’s New Cultural Affairs Commissioner

Gonzalo Casals is currently head of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art.

Gonzalo Casals. Courtesy of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, © Stanley Stellar.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has named Gonzalo Casals, currently the director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in New York, as the city’s new Cultural Affairs Commissioner.

“Art and culture should enrich the lives of all New Yorkers—not just a select few,” De Blasio said in a statement. “Gonzalo understands how to uplift the experiences of New Yorkers from all five boroughs.”

Casals, who is originally from Argentina, has headed up the Leslie-Lohman Museum, which focuses on works of art by LGBTQ artists, since 2017. He was previously deputy director of El Museo del Barrio and, starting in 2013, was its interim director. He also served as vice president for education and community engagement at Friends of the High Line, the elevated public park on Manhattan’s west side.

“I came to New York City nearly 20 years ago, drawn by the opportunity to be a part of the world’s greatest cultural community, one as diverse and vibrant as nowhere else,” Casals said in a statement. “I’ve seen firsthand how New York City’s cultural sector so profoundly shapes the lives of residents in every neighborhood. Art and culture don’t just contribute to New York’s communities—it is the foundation of so many of our communities, and so central to what makes our city great.”

At the Department of Cultural Affairs, Casals said he would “look forward to continuing to further the work that the agency has been doing,” he told the New York Times. “Opening up opportunities in the sector for folks like me—immigrant communities, queer communities, Latinx communities.”

Casals is taking over an agency that has been thrust into turmoil in recent years. His predecessor, Tom Finkelpearl, abruptly resigned from the post after six years following the outbreak of numerous controversies, often concerning the selection and placement of new public monuments.

The city has sought to diversify its statues, which overwhelmingly commemorate white men. But the efforts have hit stumbling blocks again and again. The city’s SheBuilt initiative to increase the number of statues of historical women was criticized for leaving out Catholic women, while a monument to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was called racist for omitting black suffragettes.

Meanwhile, a planned monument to Shirley Chisholm, the first African American congresswoman in the US, is getting heat for going up not in Chisholm’s Bedford-Stuyvesant district, but near the entrance to Prospect Park in a more prosperous neighborhood.

“I’m taking this appointment extremely seriously,” Casals, who starts his new post on April 13, told the Times. “Making sure I send the message that these communities and other marginal communities understand their stories matter.”

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