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David Simmons Appointed Development Director and Curator of the Ernest Withers Collection Museum and Gallery October 29, 2010

Posted by David W. King in Uncategorized.
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Museum and Gallery slated to open in February 2011

Rosalind Withers-Guzman, daughter of the late photographer Ernest Withers and trustee of the Withers Family Trust, announced today that David Simmons has been appointed Development Director and Curator of the Ernest Withers Collection Museum and Gallery slated to open in February 2011. David is a past President of The Blues Foundation.

Simmons, a long-term Memphis resident was a friend of Mr. Withers who had business dealings with the photographer and orchestrated one of the first formal public exhibits of his work in the early 1990’s at the W.C. Handy Home and Museum on Beale. Over the years he spent numerous hours with Withers in his studio/office and is familiar with both the incredible scope and details of Withers’ work.

He will be tasked with carrying out and expanding the vision of the Withers Family to honor their father; following through with the physical completion and opening on February 5, 2010 of the Withers Museum and Gallery on Beale Street in Memphis.

Under Rosalind Withers-Guzman’s direction, there was a Withers Gallery preview in May 2010 where the public got a chance to see highlights of the culturally significant collection in a formalized setting.

“My father’s work, his archive, has been referred to as the most important collection of photographs documenting African-American culture in the United States,” said Withers-Guzman. “With that in mind, the family felt we needed someone with proven development skills, strong experience in museum design with a background as a curator, plus solid business and management skills. David also brings knowledge and experience working with 501 (c) (3) organizations and has been a fine-art and photography dealer for more than 10 years.”

Simmons’ background includes more than 25 years as a marketing professional working with local, regional and national clients. He has been a dedicated community activist with an extensive history with non-profit organizations. Simmons was a founding member of Big Brothers (later adding Big Sisters) of Memphis.

Simmons served on the board of directors of The Blues Foundation for 10 years, with three years as president, receiving a special “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” for leadership. Other community service includes Mental Health Association of the Mid-South, serving on the board and as president and the Child Advocacy Center board. Simmons also served on the board of Memphis Council for International Visitors and as president.

Beginning in the early 1990s, Simmons began developing a plan for a world-class Blues Museum in Memphis. After years of collecting and struggling for funding, he found a supporter in Jack Binion, the legendary owner of Horseshoe Casinos. Blues & Legends Hall of Fame Museum opened in Tunica in 1998 as the largest, most comprehensive Blues Museum in the world. Simmons was curator for the extensive collection and was awarded a W.C. Handy Foundation award for preservation.

Simmons has been the producer/curator for a series of national traveling exhibits over the past 10 years including a Civil Rights Exhibit that opened in Tampa in 2006. His exhibits, working with artists such as George Hunt, have been housed at the Experience Music Project in Seattle (aka. The Jimi Hendrix Museum), the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and the Delta Cultural Center in Helena. He exhibited George Hunt’s paintings at Radio City Music Hall for the kick-off of Year of the Blues and filming of Martin Scorsese’s documentary, Lightning in a Bottle.

Concerning his challenge at the Withers Museum and Gallery, Simmons had this to say, “I have the advantage of having known Dr. Withers and his work. Serving as curator to this vast and important collection is both an honor and a challenge. I have already begun the process of approaching colleges and universities regarding the creation of an educational unit at the Museum where students can learn about photography, conservation, civil rights and history through hands-on work. That educational unit can help serve the Museum in cataloging and preserving this important archive,”

Simmons went on to say that he believes the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery will become a national attraction from opening day and it will become a great addition to the other museums in Memphis.

He begins work this week on the physical aspects of the facility at 333 Beale and a major civil right symposium based on Withers images. The symposium is planned in conjunction with the February 2011 opening.

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