Executive Director, Department of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies
Director, Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice

Mary Jane Jacob is a curator, writer, and professor whose pioneering work in public and socially engaged art has expanded the practice and public discourse of art as a shared process. After serving as chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and in Los Angeles, she shifted her workplace to the street, critically engaging the discourse of public space with her landmark site-specific and community-based exhibitions.

As Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), she opened the Sullivan Galleries in 2008 in the famed Louis Sullivan Carson Pirie and Scott Building in the city’s Loop. As the public arm of SAIC, the galleries play a central role in fostering cooperation among the wider Chicago arts community and the field-at-large. Furthering its position in fostering critical thinking and open dialogue, Jacob also launched in 2016 SAIC’s Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, which she now directs.

Jacob seeks to address the working processes of artists and, at the same time, the processes that audiences undergo, with a belief that the art experience can transform us in valuable ways and, in turn, the culture and society in which we live. This drives her research—manifested in her many publications, lectures, exhibitions, and other curatorial projects—and informs her teaching as a shared understanding with a stake in the future.


  • MA in History of Art with Museum Orientation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • BFA, University of Florida, Gainesville


Books and Edited Volumes

Selected Recent and Forthcoming Published Essays

  • “The Art of Being in the World” in Being: Spirituality in Contemporary Art (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, 2018)
  • “Pedagogy as Art,” in Art as Social Action: An Introduction to the Principles & Practices of Teaching Social Practice Art, eds. Gregory Sholette and Chloe Bass (New York: Allworth Press and & Social Practice Queens, 2018)
  • Interview with Kimsooja in Kimsooja (Leichtenstein: Kuntsmuseum Leightenstein, Vaduz, 2018)
  • Interview with Mark Dion in Mark Dion: Misadventures of a 21st-Century Naturalist (New Haven: Yale University Press and Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2017)
  • “Thinking Through Dewey,” in Reclaiming Art. Reshaping Democracy (Paris: Les Presses du Réel, 2017)
  • “The Gedankenexperiments of Katie Paterson” in Katie Paterson (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK and Bielefeld/Berlin, Germany: Locus+ and Kerber Verlag, 2016). Reprinted in Katie Paterson (exhibition catalogue) Centre PasquArt Kunsthaus, Biel, Switzerland in French and German, 2016
  • “Audiences Are People, Too: Social Art Practice as Lived Experience” in The Blackwell Companion to Public Art (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016)
  • “The Curatorial Commons: Places with a Past,” ASAP/Journal (The Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present), issue no. 1 (January 2016, Johns Hopkins University Press)
  • “Curating Consciousness: Inviting the Unknown,” in The Ways of Folding Space & Flying: A Project by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho (Arts Council Korea, 2015) for the 56thEsposizione Internazionale d’Arte/La Biennale di Venezia
  • “Chicago Is Culture in Action,” in Exhibition as Social Intervention: “Culture in Action” (London: St. Martin’s Press, Afterall Books, Exhibition Histories series, 2014)
  • “Il Nuovo Ordine,” in Alfredo Jaar (Chile Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2013)
  • Essential Empathy,” in Kimsooja (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz and Vancouver Art Gallery, 2013)
  • “A Shared Research,” essay in Alternative Public Art Anthology (Hamilton, NJ: ISC Press, distributed by University of Washington Press, 2013)
  • Tom Finkelpearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), chapters on “Culture in Action” projects by Daniel J. Martinez and Mark Dion
  • “Experience as Thinking” in Art as a Thinking Process: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013)
  • “Louise Bourgeois’s The Touch of Jane Addams” in Public Art Dialogue volume 3, issue 1 (London: Routledge, 2013) 

Selected Recent Lectures

  • “Seoul as Museum” 2nd annual international conference, Seoul Metropolitan City (2017)
  • “Transforming Maze/Long Kesh Prison: The vital role of contemporary dialogical Art and architecture in dealing with contentious heritage,” Metropolitan Arts Centre, Belfast (2017)
  • Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (2017)
  • Independent Curators International, New York at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, “Curator’s Perspective” series, (2017)
  • Institute for Public Art conference, Hong Kong (2017)
  • Sam Durant, “Meeting House,” The Old Manse, Concord, Trustees of Reservations “Art & the Landscape” program (town hall meeting leader at First Parish Church, Concord, 2016)
  • Hordaland Kunstsenter, Bergen, Norway (2016)
  • Verein Shedhalle, Zurich, “The Whole World in Zurich—Third Harbour Forum: Doing City” (2016)
  • “Public Enquiries” symposium, Valand Academy, Goethenberg, Sweden (lecture 2016; also published 2017)
  • Reykjavík Art Museum (2015)
  • Public Art Norway, Oslo, “Critical Issues” series (2015)
  • University of Auckland, New Zealand (Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland and Shandong University, China), “Cities in a Climate of Change: Public Art, Environmental and Social Ecologies” (2015)
  • Auckland Council, Arts and Culture (2015)
  • Alloy Pittsburgh, Carrie Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Braddock, Pennsylvania project (2015)
  • Folkestone Triennial, England, “The Sculpture Question” (2014)
  • Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (2014)
  • ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark, “The Artist Studio and the Art Museums” (2014)
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Niteroi/Rio, “Art/Environmental Action: Contemporary Encounters between Art and Society”(2013)
  • Tokyo, Tokyo University of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts, International conference “Social Practice - Art and Sustainability” (2013)
  • London, Central St. Martins MA Research in Exhibition Histories program (2013) 


Recent SAIC Exhibitions

Past Curatorial Posts

  • Curator, Spoleto Festival USA, Charleston, South Carolina
  • Consulting Curator, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia
  • Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
  • Associate Curator of Modern Art, Detroit Institute of Arts 

Other Academic Affiliations

  • Distinguished Professor at Tokyo University of the Arts
  • Moscow, visiting professor, II Moscow Curatorial Summer School
  • Basler Chair of Excellence for the Integration of the Arts, Rhetoric, and Science, College of Arts and Sciences, East Tennessee State University
  • Founding Board member, Mitglieder des Universitatsrates der Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany
  • Guest Professor, DAAD, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany, Public Art and New Artistic Strategies Program
  • Adjunct Faculty, Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York 

Fellowships and awards

  • The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Research Fellowship
  • Getty Residency Visiting Fellowship, Bard College, New York
  • Peter Norton Family Foundation Curator’s Grant
  • National Endowment for the Arts, Museum Professional Fellowship Grant
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship
  • Bellagio Study Center Residency, The Rockefeller Foundation
  • Honoree “30 most influential women in the art world,” ArtTable, New York
  • Achievement in the Field of Public Art Award, Public Art Dialogue, College Art Association
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Women’s Caucus for Art, College Art Association 


The Mary Jane Jacob Papers, Library and Archives, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, Annandale Hudson, New York


Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.