Vishakha A. Desai
President and CEO, Asia Society
Dr. Desai is the sixth President and CEO of Asia Society, a leading global organization committed to strengthening partnerships among the people, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States. Dr. Desai sets the direction for the Society’s diverse programs relating to culture, commerce, and current affairs—from major U.S.-Asia policy initiatives and national partnerships for global learning to path-breaking art exhibitions and innovative Asian American performances. Guided by Dr. Desai’s leadership since 1990 and welcoming her as president in 2004, Asia Society has expanded the scope and scale of its activities, including opening new offices in India and Korea, inaugurating a new center for U.S.-China relations, and developing new initiatives on the environment, Asian women leaders and partnership among the next generation of exceptional leaders in Asia and the United States. Dr. Desai managed the Society’s $40 million, Bartholomew Voorsanger-designed renovation of its New York City headquarters in 2001 and is overseeing two new multimillion-dollar building projects currently under construction: one in Houston designed by Yoshio Taniguchi and another in Hong Kong designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien.
Prior to joining Asia Society in 1990, Dr. Desai was a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and taught at Columbia University and other institutions.
The financial crisis, more than any other in recent history, comes at a time when a seismic shift in world order is underway. For those of us who have been committed to furthering greater understanding among Asians and Americans, the crisis has also been a clear indicator of the growing importance of Asia, especially China, in the world.
Thus, at the Asia Society, while we have faced economic challenges (as have all cultural institutions in the country), we have redoubled our efforts in educating Americans about the nuanced nature of Asian cultures and societies.
Recognizing that during hard times more people visit museums to find an oasis of calm pleasures and thoughtful contemplation, we have committed ourselves to providing fresh perspectives on the arts of Asia. Our exhibitions Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan and the upcoming Arts of Ancient Vietnam (on view Feb. 2-May 2, 2010) are both designed to provide new dimensions to understanding countries with which the U.S. has engaged in a one-dimensional way.
I feel strongly that during troubled times we have to be even more vigilant about our core mission without being afraid to experiment. This is the time to ask tough questions and be willing to let go of old habits, institutionally and personally.