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Distinguished Speaker Series

The Distinguished Speaker Series at Crystal Bridges invites visitors to hear from internationally acclaimed leaders who inspire new ways of thinking about art, architecture, and nature.

2021 Distinguished Speaker

Steve McCurry headshot

Steve McCurry


Crystal Bridges welcomes photographer and photojournalist Steve McCurry, whose work includes the celebrated portrait Afghan Girl (1984). Drawing from Steve’s distinguished and multi-decade career, we’ll learn about his experiences as a continent-crossing journalist, the people and struggles his work called attention to, and the ongoing efforts of refugee resettlement right here in Northwest Arkansas with Canopy NWA. Not an event to miss, this presentation promises to be informative, insightful, and full of fascinating stories.

2020 Distinguished Speaker

Colson Whitehead headshot

Colson Whitehead


Crystal Bridges welcomes acclaimed author Colson Whitehead in this virtual lecture centered on his award winning novel, The Nickel Boys, an exploration of life under Jim Crow told from the perspective of two boys in one of the country’s most notorious juvenile correctional institutions. This meticulously researched and searing book was an instant New York Times bestseller and won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. It was also longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award and nominated for The National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction during the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival.

Colson Whitehead, Virtual Distinguished Speaker

2019 Distinguished Speakers

Laurie Anderson headshot

Laurie Anderson


Laurie Anderson is a visual artist, composer, musician, film director, and writer who has pushed disciplinary boundaries in American art for over four decades.  Known primarily for her multimedia presentations, she has cast herself in roles as varied as visual artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, electronics whiz, vocalist, and instrumentalist. O’ Superman, included in the exhibition Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, launched Anderson’s recording career in 1980, rising to number two on the British pop charts and subsequently appearing on Big Science, the first of her seven albums on the Warner Brothers label. Anderson’s visual work has been presented in major museums throughout the United States and Europe. Her recent projects include a series of audio-visual installations and a high-definition film, Hidden Inside Mountains, a two-year worldwide tour of her performance piece, “Homeland,” and a solo performance, “Delusion.” Her awards include the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for her outstanding contribution to the arts in 2007, Pratt Institute’s Honorary Legends Award in 2011, and Yoko Ono’s Courage Award for the Arts in 2016.

Vanessa German headshot

Vanessa German


Vanessa German, the winner of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize, is an acclaimed visual and performance artist based in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood, the community that is the driving force behind German’s powerful performance work, and whose cast-off relics form the language of her copiously embellished sculptures. She was featured in Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art exhibition (2014-15). As a citizen artist, German explores the power of art and love as a transformative force in the dynamic cultural ecosystem of communities and neighborhoods. She is the founder of Love Front Porch and the ARThouse, a community arts initiative for the children of Homewood. Several of German’s artworks are included in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection. German’s fine artwork has been exhibited widely, most recently at the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, GA; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; the Studio Museum, Harlem, NY; the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL as well as upcoming solo exhibitions at the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI and the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA. Her work has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered and in The Huffington Post, O Magazine and Essence Magazine.

Watch Vanessa German Video

Titus Kaphar headshot

Titus Kaphar


In this powerful talk, Titus Kaphar imagines a renewed, more nuanced engagement with American history: envisioning new spaces for marginalized or forgotten bodies to enter, and disrupt, the evolving fabric of our culture. If art is a language that speaks, what is it saying? In statue form, Roosevelt rides a horse and boldly stares into the future; meanwhile, nameless African American and Indigenous people walk on foot beside him. Statues of Confederate soldiers loom over our civic institutions—our libraries and schools and offices—without context or apology. Who are the anonymous slaves, servants, and laborers appearing as footnotes in portraits of our Founding Fathers? What values are being expressed by the constitutional monuments dotting the American landscape? And why do we skip over chapters—entire peoples, entire histories—in our national narratives? For Kaphar, the artist’s role is clear: to draw back the curtain on ignorance and deception, and amplify the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves. In a simple phrase, it’s to celebrate the truth. Join Kaphar—one of the country’s most exciting young painters—on a revealing, intellectually nourishing tour of the issues most in need of amendment.

Collection Connection: Titus Kaphar is the artist of The Cost of Removal (2017), on display in the Contemporary Art Gallery.

Tonya Lewis Lee headshot

Tonya Lewis Lee


Tonya Lewis Lee has been hard at work for over 20 years delivering quality content and information across many platforms. Through storytelling online, in books, in film and in television, she has sought to entertain, educate, inspire and encourage positive healthy lifestyle choices and outcomes. As an art collector, Tonya and her husband Spike Lee have lent to exhibitions, such as the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. Fresh from producing She’s Gotta Have It: Season 2, which focuses on contemporary artists, Tonya Lewis Lee will discuss the power and impact of art and images to inspire social justice.

Tonya’s most recent television production She’s Gotta Have It: Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix, with Season 2 slated to return on May 24. Her most recent film Monster, based on the Walter Dean Myers novel of the same name, will be in theaters Fall 2019.

Jose Antonio Vargas headshot

Jose Antonio Vargas


Join us for an evening with Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and theatrical producer. A leading voice for the human rights of immigrants, he founded the non-profit media and culture organization Define American, named one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company. His best-selling memoir is Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.  Most recently, he co-produced Heidi Schreck’s acclaimed play What the Constitution Means to Me, which opened on Broadway in spring 2019.

In 2011, The New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. A year later, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine worldwide with fellow undocumented immigrants as part of a follow-up cover story he wrote. He then produced and directed Documented, an autobiographical documentary feature film that aired on CNN and received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Also in 2015, MTV aired White People, an Emmy-nominated television special he produced and directed on what it means to be young and white in a demographically changing America.

Marina Abramović headshot

Marina Abramović


Since the beginning of her career in Belgrade during the early 1970s, Marina Abramović has pioneered performance as a visual art form, creating some of the most important early works. The body has always been both her subject and medium. Exploring her physical and mental limits in works that ritualize the simple actions of everyday life, she has withstood pain, exhaustion, and danger in her quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. Abramovic has presented her work at major institutions in the US and Europe, including the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven,1985; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1990; Neue National Galerie, Berlin, 1993, and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1995. She has also participated in many large-scale international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1976 and 1997) and Documenta VI, VII and IX, Kassel (1977, 1982 and 1992). Her most recent publication is Walk Through Walls: A Memoir.

During this Distinguished Speaker lecture, the performance artist will give a talk in which she discusses her work and her exploration of long durational performance, transitory objects, and the boundaries between artist and audience.

Watch Marina Abramovic Video

2018 Distinguished Speakers


Patrisse Khan Cullors


Artist and activist Patrisse Khan Cullors inspires audiences to action with her passionate views on the racial, gender, and sexual-orientation discriminations; issues that are also explored in the temporary exhibition, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. Already an established community organizer and performance artist, Cullors and her co-founders ignited a national conversation about social injustices when they created the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in 2013, which quickly evolved into a powerful global movement. Resolute in her vision of a world where the lives and contributions of all individuals are recognized equally, Cullors adeptly communicates the adversities inflicted by social injustice as she educates and inspires others to work together to promote inclusiveness and equality. Cullors will unveil her new book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, followed by a book signing.

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Deborah Butterfield headshot

Deborah Butterfield


Renowned American artist Deborah Butterfield has been captivated by horses all her life. She combined this captivation with her interest in art and material while studying art at the University of California, Davis. Constructed in wood and cast in bronze, her life-size sculptures have been exhibited in museums worldwide, including her work Redstick, on view as part of Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection. She has become a master of three-dimensional horse images, building her sculptures with no sketches or maquettes, working directly with wood pieces or found metal scraps. Horses remain at the core of her life and artwork today. In this lecture, Butterfield will speak about her work, career, philosophy, creative process, and more.

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Toni Tipton-Martin headshot

Toni Tipton-Martin


Toni Tipton-Martin is a culinary journalist, author, and community activist who has dedicated her career to building a healthier community. She is the author of The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks, celebrating the important legacy of African American cooks and their cookbooks. A renowned author, she is the winner of a 2016 James Beard Book Award, the 2016 Art of Eating Prize, and the recipient of a 2015 Certificate of Outstanding Contribution to Publishing from the Black Caucus of the Library Association. Tipton-Martin was invited twice by First Lady Michelle Obama to the White House and was the first African American Food Editor of a major daily newspaper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer. She was the nutrition writer for The Los Angeles Times and a contributing editor to Heart and Soul Magazine. A signing of The Jemima Code will follow the lecture.

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Jeffrey Seller headshot

Jeffrey Seller


Jeffrey Seller is the lead producer of the Broadway hit musical, Hamilton! Spanning the divide between art, commerce, and digital media, Seller’s popular theater productions of HamiltonRentAvenue Q, and In the Heights have reinvigorated Broadway into the mainstream. In conversation with KUAF Radio host Kyle Kellams, Seller will weigh in on what makes a hit, the role of live theater in the digital age, and his work to make American musicals more accessible. With increasingly expensive Broadway prices, Seller and his co-producer invented Broadway’s groundbreaking rush ticket policy to give young audiences more affordable options for Broadway shows. In June 2016, Hamilton received 11 Tony awards from a record-breaking 16 nominations, including a Best Musical win for Sellers, his fourth Tony Award overall.

Julie Mehretu headshot

Julie Mehretu


Known for her monumental works, Julie Mehretu is a renowned painter based in New York. The artist’s work, Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation is the largest canvas in Crystal Bridges’ collection—measuring 17 feet long and just over 8 feet tall. The artist completed the diptych painting HOWLeon (I, II), a large-scale commission for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Haas Atrium. Mehretu uses rich layers of paint and drawings, inspired by elements of geography and architecture, and describes her canvases as “story maps of no location.” In 2015, Mehretu won the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from the US Department of State Medal of Arts, presented by Secretary of State John Kerry. Her work has appeared in major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and has also participated in the Sydney Biennale,the Bienal de São Paulo, and Whitney Biennial.

Bryan Stevenson headshot

Bryan Stevenson


Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to defending some of the country’s most marginalized people, Bryan and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is also creating public memorials to confront a legacy of slavery and discrimination. In April 2018, the Initiative opened The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, a museum built on the site of a former slave warehouse in Downtown Montgomery, and the nation’s first national memorial to victims of lynching titled The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, one of the nation’s most ambitious projects relating to the history of racial terror lynchings. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. He has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court, and he recently won a historic ruling stating that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children ages 17 or younger are unconstitutional. He is the recent author of the New York Times bestseller Just Mercy, named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction in 2014.

2017 Distinguished Speakers

Marina Abramović headshot

Artist Marina Abramović

Friday, March 24, 7 to 8 pm

Marina Abramović is a pioneer in the world of performance art. Her career has spanned five decades and her work explores the relationship between artist and audience, pushing the limits and boundaries of the physical and mental. In the 2010 MOMA retrospective, The Artist is Present, a team of trained artists re-performed Abramovic’s seminal performances, some of which with her former partner Ulay, while Abramović herself sat at a small table as museum visitors waited to sit across from her. Like so much of her work, the performance was a major feat of endurance: the artist sat stationary every day for three months. Abramović is the founder of the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), a platform for immaterial and long-durational work, and the author of the memoir: Walk Through Walls.

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Lisa Perry and Yvonne Force Villareal headshots

Fashionistas Lisa Perry and Yvonne Force Villareal

Thursday, April 20, 7 to 8 pm

Join us for a conversation between two of New York City’s most prominent art-fashion mavens, friends and collaborators Lisa Perry and Yvonne Force Villareal. Designer Lisa Perry is a style fixture who continually takes her appreciation of the design of the 60s to new heights. She blends her love of vintage fashion with her love of collecting modern art, including works by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Yvonne Force Villareal is the co-founder of the Art Production Fund, an organization that commissions ambitious public art projects with the aim of reaching wider audiences and expanding awareness through contemporary art. The fund works to reduce the physical as well as the psychic distance of cultural, class, linguistic, racial, and income barriers that may hinder participation in contemporary art.

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David Gelb and Brian McGinn headshots

Chef’s Table Creators David Gelb and Brian McGinn

Friday, July 14, 7 to 8 pm

Meet David Gelb and Brian McGinn, creators of the popular Netflix series Chef’s Table ! After making the critically-acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, director David Gelb had his own dream: a Jiro-style television series that would profile amazing chefs from all around the world. Partnering with Brian McGinn (Netflix’s Amanda Knox), David’s dream spurred Chef’s Table, a docu-series bringing the passion of the world’s top chefs to life with miraculous artistry. Gelb and McGinn will share stories behind the hit show that “makes dining look like a walk through a great art gallery” (The Wall Street Journal) and discuss how exploring the personal lives of the greatest chefs has helped them uncover the passion and creative inspiration behind the most exciting and delicious food in the world.

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Musician Jason Moran

Thursday, September 21, 7 to 8 pm

Jason Moran is a musician who has established himself as a risk taker and innovator of new directions for jazz. The Artistic Director of Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Moran was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010. For this special lecture, Moran will present short jazz performances to punctuate his talk. Similar to the way the artworks in the exhibition Stuart Davis: In Full Swing (on view September 16, 2017 through January 1, 2018) were inspired by jazz, Moran’s work is frequently influenced by visual art, including works by twentieth-century painters like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Egon Schiele, and Robert Rauschenberg. Moran has also collaborated with contemporary artists in other disciplines. He scored a ballet for renowned choreographer Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, and has also scored video works for contemporary American artists Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker. His ongoing visionary collaborations in the art world have brought Moran additional fans and respect.

Artist Lynda Benglis

Friday, November 3, 7 to 8 pm

Lynda Benglis is an artist whose artwork Eat Meat is in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection. Benglis was first recognized in the late sixties for her poured latex and foam works during a time when the art world was dominated and controlled by male artists. Benglis’s work generally exists in an indefinable space between painting and sculpture, and explores metaphorical and biomorphic shapes as well as the materiality of the surface. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts grants, among other commendations. Benglis’s work is in extensive public collections including: the Solomon Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

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Carrie Mae Weems headshot

Artist Carrie Mae Weems

Friday, December 8, 7 to 8 pm

Artist Carrie Mae Weems is considered one of the most influential contemporary American artists today. Crystal Bridges recently acquired the artist’s photograph series The Kitchen Table, which was on view in the 2016 temporary exhibition Black Unity. Weems’s work investigates family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the consequences of power. She has developed a complex body of artwork employing photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video. In a recent review of her retrospective in The New York Times, Holland Cotter wrote, “Ms. Weems is what she has always been, a superb image maker and a moral force, focused and irrepressible.” Weems has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at major national and international museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Frist Center for Visual Art, and the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York. She has received many awards, including the MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2013 as well as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

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2016 Distinguished Speakers

Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold, artist

Friday, March 18. 7 to 8:30 pm

Meet artist Faith Ringgold as she speaks about her career of more than 60 years, with particular focus on Maya’s Quilt of Life, inspired by Maya Angelou and on view in Crystal Bridges’ 1940s to Now Gallery. Ringgold will provide an overview of her fascinating career, beginning in the early 1960s with the artist’s first-hand accounts of the Civil Rights Movement and the political imagery in her American PeopleSeries. Ringgold’s inspiring, often humorous, and always human stories illustrate her life’s work as an artist, activist, author, teacher, and parent through the evolution of an amazing body of work, including her well-known story quilts. Join us for a book signing with the artist following the lecture.

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Thom Mayne

Thom Mayne, architect and Pritzker Prize winner

Thursday, May 12. 7 to 8:30 pm

Innovative designer, inspiring thought leader, and award-winning architect Thom Mayne will explore how architecture connects us with people and landscape. Mayne founded Morphosis Architecture as a collective architectural practice engaged in cross-disciplinary research and design such as the NYC Cooper Union Building and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. Mayne’s honors include the Pritzker Prize (2005) and the AIA Gold Medal (2013). Under Mayne’s direction, Morphosis Architecture has been the subject of various group and solo exhibitions throughout the world, including a large solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2006. Morphosis buildings and projects have been published extensively, and the firm has been the subject of 26 monographs.

The Distinguished Speaker Series is sponsored by Del Monte Foods, Inc. and architectural programming at Crystal Bridges is sponsored by Chip and Susan Chambers.

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Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl, food author and critic

Friday, June 10. 7 to 8:30 pm

Bestselling author, food critic, and judge on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters, Ruth Reichl is a well-recognized and beloved culinary voice. The Seattle Times has called her “one of the nation’s most influential figures in the food world.” Most recognized as a writer and editor, Reichl was the Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine for ten years until its closing. Prior to this role, she was the restaurant critic of The New York Timesand both the restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times. Join us for a book signing with the artist following the lecture.

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Cheech Marin headshot

Cheech Marin, actor and art collector

Thursday, July 14. 7 to 8:30 pm

Primarily known as an actor, director, and performer, Cheech Marin has developed what is arguably the finest private collection of Chicano art in the nation. Marin will talk about his love of art and the events that sparked his interest in collecting. A third‐generation Mexican American, Marin has received numerous awards for his work on behalf of Latinos, including the 2000 Creative Achievement Award from the Imagen Foundation and the 1999 ALMA Community Service Award from the National Council of La Raza and Kraft Foods. Join us for a book signing with the artist following the lecture.

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Judy Chicago, artist and educator

Friday, September 16, 7 to 8:30 pm

For more than five decades, Judy Chicago has remained steadfast in her commitment to the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change. As an artist, writer, educator, and humanist, her work and life are models for an enlarged definition of art, an expanded role for the artist, and women’s rights to freedom of expression. Chicago’s influence both within and beyond the art community is evidenced by her inclusion in hundreds of publications throughout the world. Chicago will participate in a conversation with Curator Chad Alligood and two female artists from State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, exploring the emergence of women artists from the 1950s to now. Join us for a book signing with the artist following the lecture.

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Nick Cave headshot

Nick Cave, artist

Friday, December 2, 7 to 8:30 pm

Nick Cave is an artist and educator working between the visual and performing arts. In a conversation with Curator Chad Alligood, Cave will talk about his lifework, including his Soundsuits in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection. Utilizing a wide range of mediums, including sculpture, installation, video, sound, and performance, Cave’s solo exhibitions are seen throughout the world, including the galleries of Denver Art Museum; Chicago Cultural Center; Studio la Città, Verona, Italy; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; and Seattle Art Museum. Cave serves as a Professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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