IAS alumna named to 40 Under 40 list

Priya Frank at the Seattle Art Museum.
Priya Frank at the Seattle Art Museum. Courtesy photo

By N.L. Sweeney
When Priya Frank entered the Master of Arts in Cultural Studies program at the University of Washington Bothell in 2009, she came with a passion for community development and stewardship. That ardor and the skills she developed at UW Bothell led to her work at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and recognition as one of Puget Sound Business Journal’s (PSBJ) 40 Under 40.

“The judges pored through hundreds of applications to determine this year’s Puget Sound Business Journal 40 Under 40 honorees and Priya’s application rose to the top,” said Emily Parkhurst, PSBJ market president and publisher. “These honorees are leaders in our community, driving this region’s economy and giving back in meaningful ways. They are our most successful and driven young business leaders and we’re proud to honor them for their dedication to this community.”

Frank was surprised she was even considered for the honor. “My work has always been in the arts, but this was acknowledgment from the mainstream — from business people,” Frank said. “I am really excited about what that can mean for my work creating a racially equitable space for artists and museum visitors. Being included on the 40 Under 40 list is a chance to bring these art and community-building concepts to other business leaders.”

The first brush strokes

Frank’s award is the result of a zeal she has held since she was in high school. “For a long time, I was the only person of color at my schools,” she said. “And then, I was lucky enough to attend a high school where people looked like me, where I was accepted as the way I was. I want to evoke those inclusive spaces through art, for the people who aren’t as lucky as I was.”

At UW Bothell, Frank interacted with diverse populations on campus and in the community, and she gained tools that would prove invaluable in dealing with complex systemic problems she would later face in her work.

“In Cultural Studies, we examined power dynamics and equitable processes from a systems approach, looking at the way multiple factors interact to keep oppressive structures, like racism or homophobia, in place. I use this networked structure constantly to guide how I approach creating experiences in Seattle that reflect the voices and perspectives of people of color,” Frank said. “I use the knowledge and skills I learned at UW Bothell every day.”

After graduating in 2011, Frank joined the University of Washington’s Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity as assistant director for advancement. She later returned to UW Bothell as associate director for advancement with an emphasis on the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. In addition to applying her education to her career, it also informed her volunteerism. She established a group where artists of color could interact and workshop art with like-minded individuals and served on the board for On the Boards, an organization that produces forward-thinking art.

The work takes shape

Frank’s expertise in systems thinking and organization were key factors when her dream job entered the picture. In 2016, she became the associate director for community programs at SAM.

“I remember sitting in the interview and feeling more comfortable and excited than I ever had before,” she said. “They told me I would be developing connections with artists and heading racial equity structures. This was a job that brought my interests to an intersection.

“I envisioned an environment where people of color could see themselves and where their cultures would be respected, heard and celebrated.”

Why it matters

Frank sees the changes she advocates at the museum as more than “checking the boxes” on social equity. “We’ve added racial equity expert positions to consult with different departments within SAM, instituted mindful approaches to how visitors and curators interact with the art, and reached out to the community to take the art outside our walls. These steps have been instituted at multiple levels, not only within the exhibits but the curators, HR, management and internships.”

She noted that to affect meaningful change, one must become involved all parts of an organization. “This approach treats issues like racism as systemic problems with systemic solutions,” Frank said.

Frank sees the 40 Under 40 luncheon on Sept. 27 as an opportunity to share her passion and her philosophies with professionals outside her advocacy and art networks. “I don’t want to stop with just making shifts at SAM,” Frank said. “I want to be part of changes that happen outside of people’s interactions with the museum, and that means reaching out to business leaders in the community.”

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