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Houston Museum of African American Culture Welcomes New CEO

Kheli Willetts comes to Houston from Syracuse, New York. She takes her new role at the HMAAC Thursday.

Kheli Willetts
Kheli Willetts

It started as a courtship.

“Kheli is somebody that we wooed and we were happy to have her come to HMAAC,” says John Guess, current CEO of the Houston Museum of African American Culture.

Guess will focus more on fundraising now and is excited to hand over the reins to Kheli Willetts.

She is a person who really relates to community,” he says. “One of the most attractive things about her is that she understands the importance of culture to underserved communities.”

Willetts comes from Syracuse University, where she taught African American art history. She also led the school’s Community Folk Art Center. In addition to her advanced degrees, she studied metalsmithing at Syracuse.

HMAAC exterior
Houston Museum of African American Culture’s building at 4807 Caroline St. in the Museum District

HMAAC began in 2000 as an initiative by former Houston Mayor Lee Brown. Guess says he was recruited in 2009 with the task of raising the organization’s profile to eventually attract talent like Willetts.

“What she brings to us is an ability to take this to another level as a mature organization and not a start-up,” Guess says.

Located in Houston’s Museum District, HMAAC has about six rotating exhibitions a year and hosts a film series. The museum isn’t the only place announcing a new changing of the guards. This week, the Galveston Arts Center announced Dennis Nance will replace longtime curator Clint Willour, who is retiring after 25 years.

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