Press Releases

MICA announces Dr. Deborah Willis as Inaugural Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography

The Endowment Chair is a critic-in-residence for the program, and includes eight visits over the academic year.

BALTIMORE — The Photography Department of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is pleased to announce that acclaimed scholar, historian, curator and artist Dr. Deborah Willis will be joining the Department for the 2019-2020 academic year as the inaugural Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography. One of the first programs of its kind worldwide, the photography program at MICA was established more than 100 years ago.

The Endowed Chair, which is a unique position, is a critic-in-residence for the BFA Photography Program, and will include eight visits over the course of the academic year. The individual in this position will share their practice as an artist, curator and critic with the students, and will engage with students in critical discussions about their emerging practices. The Endowed Chair will provide important feedback and nurture growth in the students through group discussions, individual and group critiques and topical lectures related to her own scholarship. 

"When I was a student, the iconic photographer Minor White came to MICA and expanded my world with a seminal workshop. I created the Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography to bring these pivotal artists that students dream of spending time with to enhance and expand their futures," Stuart Cooper said. "Dr. Deborah Willis has opened our minds to seeing beyond ourselves and helped us to see what had way too long been ignored. She stands as a unique figure in the betterment of art, education and society as a whole."

In addition to her role in the department, Willis will also give a free and open-to-the-public lecture to share her vibrant practices with the community as a whole.  She will also curate an exhibition, “Migrating Bodies: Artists Reimagine Migration,” spotlighting national artists alongside artists of the MICA community. 

"MICA is profoundly grateful for this remarkable gift from alumnus Stuart B. Cooper ’72 and his wife Rebecca L. Besson. The creation of the Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography enables MICA to bring important and influential professionals to interact with our students in Photography as teachers and mentors," MICA President Samuel Hoi said. "We are thrilled to inaugurate this program with renowned scholar and artist Dr. Deborah Willis. Internationally known and revered, Dr. Willis will bring rigorous practice and insightful knowledge to nurture and challenge our next generation of artists."

For more information on MICA's photography program, as well as this year's endowed chair, please contact Nate Larson, chair of undergraduate photography, at or Colette Veasey-Cullors, associate dean for design and media, at

Willis is a university professor and chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, iconicity and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women and gender. 

She is also the director of the NYU Institute for African American Affairs and the Center for Black Visual Culture. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation, contemporary women photographers and beauty. 

Willis received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and was a Richard D. Cohen Fellow in African and African American Art, Hutchins Center, Harvard University; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow; and Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. Fellow. She has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation's leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture. Willis has also authored numerous photography books on African American culture.

In 2014, Alumni Stuart B. Cooper ‘72 (Photography BFA) and Rebecca L. Besson established the Stuart B. Cooper Endowed Chair in Photography. This endowed fund will annually bring an acclaimed artist and scholar to engage with the BFA photography department to inspire the next generation of artists and thinkers in the photographic medium.