Bronx Museum’s Holly Block, leader in the arts, passes

Holly Block was the long time leader of the Bronx Museum.
Photo courtesy of the Bronx Museum

A leader in the arts who helped a local arts museum grow in influence has passed.

Holly Block, who led the Bronx Museum of the Arts as an executive director since July 2006, is being remembered around the borough as an enthusiastic emissary for the borough institution locally and around the world.

Block passed away on Saturday, October 7 after fighting cancer. She was 58-years-old.

“A leader in the arts community, she earned international esteem for her role in stewarding the museum and building its reputation as a site of innovative contemporary art exhibitions, cross-cultural dialogue, and advocacy for the people of the Bronx,” read a statement from Bronx Museum.

The statement continued: “The outpouring of condolence from across the art community at the news of her passing is testament to her remarkable achievements in fostering emerging and established artists, and in serving as a passionate advocate for the power of art to promote understanding and cultural exchange.”

Before serving as the museum’s executive director, she was a curator for the venerable institution from 1985 to 1988.

Shirley Solomon, Bronx Museum’s director of governmental and institutional giving, who worked with Block since 2006, said Block had a great understanding of the museum’s mission in terms of creating and providing programs to the borough community.

“I think she helped in our commitment to our programming, and she helped our commitment to deepening our reach in our community,” said Solomon, adding that Block was a “transformative leader.”

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said he was saddened to learn about the passing of Block, and that she dedicated her life to promoting the arts and artists from all over the world.

“Holly led the Bronx Museum of the Arts and its successful growth since 2006,” said Diaz. “She was an enthusiastic representative of the museum and its mission throughout all communities in the Bronx, the city and abroad.”

He added that the Bronx has a heavy heart with loss.

Bronx Council on the Arts, a frequent community partner of the museum, also offered its condolences.

“The Bronx Council on the Arts sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Holly Block following her passing, as well as to the leadership and staff of the Bronx Museum of the Arts,” read a statement from BCA.

Charlie Vazquez, BCA deputy director, said that Block worked with the BCA’s Bronx Writers Center to establish an annual literary festival, PEN World Voices Festival, that draws writers from all over the world, including from Mexico and Cuba.

“Holly made it possible for PEN World Voices to expand its programing in the Bronx and to collaborate to make that happen,” said Vazquez. “This is one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the world, and she gave the sign off for it having an official Bronx home once a year.”

The museum focuses on exhibiting artist and visual art works from Latin-American, Asian and African visual arts.

Block wrote a book called ‘Art in Cuba: The New Generation.’

Her decision to partner with the Cuban government was the source of some controversy during her tenure, according to published reports.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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