Howard Dodson, director of Harlem's Schomburg Center, will be stepping down in early 2011

Howard Dodson, whose wide-ranging acquisitions and major exhibitions have raised the profile of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and burnished its reputation as the premier institution of its kind, plans to retire as its director in 2011.

The Schomburg Center, in Harlem, is part of the New York Public Library, which is scheduled to announce his retirement on Monday.

Since Mr. Dodson became the director in 1984 the Schomburg’s holdings went from 5 million to 10 million items, including the acquisition of the collections of Melville J. Herskovits, John Henrik Clarke, Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X and Nat King Cole, among others. Attendance tripled to about 120,000 people annually.

Mr. Dodson was the curator or co-curator for major exhibitions on subjects like slavery and black migration, and put on shows displaying the art of Romare Bearden and African women.

“I had planned to retire at age 70,” Mr. Dodson said in a recent interview at the center. At almost 71, he is tall and natty. “Unlike some of my brethren on the African continent I didn’t plan to be president for life.”

As the search for his successor begins and the accolades roll in, Mr. Dodson talked about turning a research library known mostly to scholars into a multifaceted cultural center open to tourists, schoolchildren and anyone interested in black culture. While Mr. Dodson’s tenure began in a mostly boarded-up Harlem, the neighborhood underwent one of its periodic renaissances. So it seemed fitting that in 2007 there was an $11 million renovation and expansion of the center, at 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, home to a trove of art, manuscripts, films, books and photographs.

“I don’t like to think about what I did,” Mr. Dodson said of the notion of his legacy. “I rarely do anything singularly. But we have established an institution on a firm foundation. We have gathered a significant number of resources for people to know about our black past. We’ve influenced African-American studies and the respect and appreciation for black history and the black experience around the world.


Continue reading on Dodson's work at the Schomburg at The New York Times

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