Vishakha Desai to Step Down as President and CEO of Asia Society

Contact: Elaine Merguerian, 212-327-9271 or

NEW YORK, May 9, 2012 — Vishakha N. Desai announced her plans to step down as President and Chief Executive Officer of Asia Society after eight years of transformative global growth for the organization dedicated to connecting the peoples of Asia and the United States.

Dr. Desai, who has been with Asia Society for 22 years, said today she would leave the post on September 1 and join the Guggenheim Foundation in a newly-created consulting position of Senior Advisor for Global Policy and Programs. She is also in conversation with several prominent universities to develop a special initiative focusing on the intersection of culture in international relations.

During her tenure, Dr. Desai oversaw a major expansion of the New York-headquartered Asia Society, with establishment of new offices in India and South Korea.  Today Asia Society’s global reach extends across 11 cities in Asia and the U.S. This expansion culminated in the opening of two architecturally important multi-million-dollar centers with gallery exhibition space in Hong Kong and Houston.

Indian-born and US-educated, Dr. Desai said that with major changes now in place for the organization it was time for her to move to the next phase of her professional life to allow more time for reflection, teaching, writing, and advising others.

“This has been truly a landmark year for the Society,” she said. “In the past two months, we have inaugurated two magnificent buildings in Hong Kong and Houston and completed an ambitious strategic plan.  It has been a privilege to preside over the institution during this time of dramatic transformation.  It is now the right time to close my chapter and open the way to new leadership at the Asia Society.”

Asia Society Board co-chairs, Henrietta Fore and Ronnie Chan, said Dr. Desai had “brought a maturity and breadth” to the 56-year-old institution which has long been a forum for leaders and policymakers from Asia and the United States, and known for being at the forefront of Asian arts, and ideas.

Dr. Desai – one of America’s leading experts on Asian art – joined Asia Society as its museum director in 1990. She quickly built the institution’s reputation as a leader in the field of contemporary Asian art.  Appointed to lead the entire institution as President and CEO in 2004, she emphasized the need to build partnerships and dialogue on both sides of the Pacific to reflect the reality of Asia’s dynamic rise. Asia Society is now a recognized leader in forging links across its key disciplines from policy and arts to education and business.

Today, Asia Society is at the forefront of international education including Chinese language instruction in American schools. It has created networks and communities of exceptional women and young leaders in Asia and the U.S.  It is showcasing the diverse cultures of Muslim Asia. It has expanded the scope of its policy work – most recently in regards to hotspots such as Myanmar and Iran – and will soon launch an Asia Society Policy Institute to complement its Center on U.S.-China Relations.

 “Asia Society has been fortunate to have a leader of her caliber for so many years,” Ms. Fore and Mr. Chan said. “Through her leadership our organization has been transformed. During the last 22 years she has served Asia Society as Museum Director, as well as Senior Vice President, culminating in her role over the past eight years as President. A hallmark of her presidency has been the bringing together of issues of culture and policy to deepen mutual understanding among Asians and Americans.”

Dr. Desai, who has advised President Barack Obama on India, is also writing a book on the future of India’s role in the world through the prism of her life story. After she steps down, she will serve as an advisor to the Board to help with the transition process.

The Asia Society Board of Trustees has launched a search for a new President and CEO.

Asia Society is the leading educational organization dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among peoples, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context. Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, the Society provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to address present challenges and create a shared future.

Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit institution with headquarters in New York, new cultural centers in Hong Kong and Houston, and affiliated offices in Los Angeles, Melbourne, Mumbai, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai and Washington, DC.

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