For someone who loves bringing people together, Priya Frank says the separations during the coronavirus pandemic have forced her to think creatively about how she can continue to be a connector.
As associate director for community programs at Seattle Art Museum, she’s looking at community building with a new awareness of vulnerability and risk-taking but with the same goals of being a resource and building relationships she learned with a 2011 Master of Arts in Cultural Studies degree from the University of Washington Bothell.
“So much of the way I do my work came from the program,” she said, “thinking about how the arts can connect to different communities and be used as a tool for change, resistance and resilience.”
Two of a kind
In recognition of her career and dedication to arts communities, Frank received a 2020 University of Washington Bothell Alumni of the Year Award. The other 2020 recipient of the award, photographer and filmmaker David Ryder, is a MACS 2011 classmate and friend.
“She’s so smart, so talented and just a really great person to be around. She is so positive and uplifting,” Ryder said. “Everything about her work is building community and amplifying others and doing it with a social justice bent.”
Frank said she feels honored to receive an award from the University that lifted her up.
“What a beautiful community to be able to have. I feel so blessed and privileged to have had that kind of experience that launched me into so many other things.”
Frank, who received degrees in Communications and American Ethnic Studies from the UW in Seattle in 2004, was working full time while pursuing her master’s degree in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.
“It was when I got to UW Bothell that I felt like I had a sense of community and a cohort of people who supported you,” she said. “You were able to lean on, learn from and grow with. The cultural studies program allowed me to do that and thrive.”
Frank has worked at the Seattle Art Museum since 2016. Her community engagement work involves partnerships and collaborations on exhibitions and programs. Frank also leads the museum’s equity team, working to shift the internal culture to center racial equity within partnerships, programs and everyday practices.
“I think of the MACS program as a pivotal turning point for me to be able to delve into power dynamics within institutional frameworks. It allowed me to further develop my equity lens,” she said, “and to think critically about the status quo of organizations and what it will take to make a cultural shift.”
Associate Professor Susan Harewood, director of the MACS program, encouraged Frank to consider how arts organizations can support artists of color, explore larger social and political aspects of their work, and build connections with local communities.
“Susan saw what I was capable of long before I did,” Frank said. “Many of the lessons she taught me stay with me and influence me even now.”
The arts community
A member of the Seattle Arts Commission since 2015 and in her second year as chair, Frank has learned city processes and policies. Last year, the Puget Sound Business Journal recognized her potential by naming her one of the paper’s 40 under 40 — the business community's brightest and most innovative leaders under the age of 40.
“Whether I’m working specifically in the arts or outside, community building and racial equity work are part of my life’s work,” she said.
“My heart for this community is real,” said Frank, who was born and raised in Seattle. “I just want to see it thrive for my friends and colleagues who are incredibly talented artists and creatives.
“Arts and culture are what keep people centered,” she said. “That’s what builds community.”