The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art welcomes Isha Ambani, Carolyn Brehm and Peter Kimmelman as new members of its board of trustees. The Smithsonian’s Board of Regents approved their appointment for four-year terms each, effective Sept. 23, 2021. The 17-member Board of Regents, consisting of the Chief Justice of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, three members of the United States Senate, three members of the United States House of Representatives, and nine citizens, is responsible for the administration of the Smithsonian.
In addition to these new appointments, Antoine van Agtmael’s tenure as chair of the museum’s board of trustees was extended through October 2023. Dr. Vijay Anand was named vice chair of the board and Ambassador Pamela H. Smith was appointed secretary of the board.
The National Museum of Asian Art (asia.si.edu) was the Smithsonian’s first dedicated art museum and the first art museum on the National Mall. Since opening its doors as the Freer Gallery of Art in 1923, it has acquired an international reputation for excellence by virtue of its extraordinary collection and its century-long tradition of exhibitions, research, art conservation and conservation science. The new and returning appointees to the board come to the museum as it prepares for its centennial in 2023—a milestone celebration and a springboard for the museum’s transformative vision for its next century, which will broaden and deepen the museum’s impact and reach, both onsite and online.
“On behalf of my colleagues at the museum and across the Smithsonian, I am delighted to welcome these distinguished new members to our board and to congratulate our officers on their election,” said Chase F. Robinson, the museum’s Dame Jillian Sackler Director. “All art museums face the challenge of responding to a quickly evolving cultural landscape, such as new expectations on the part of the public and increasing financial pressures. For a museum devoted to the arts and cultures of Asia, particularly in what is often regarded as the Asian century, there are special opportunities and responsibilities. As we mark our centennial in 2023, the vision and passion of these talented new members and officers will accelerate our efforts to make our collections and expertise more accessible and compelling, to expand our collection, and to join others in understanding and celebrating Asian arts and cultures. Our board is larger and more diverse than it’s ever been. I look forward to working with trustees and extend my gratitude for their service.”
On behalf of the board, van Agtmael said, “As chair of the board of trustees, I am delighted to welcome our new and returning members who bring both expertise and further diversity to our board.”
About the New Members
Ambani is a Director of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd (Jio), a subsidiary of Reliance Industries, headquartered in Mumbai, that owns businesses across India engaged in energy, petrochemicals, textiles, retail and digital services. After observing slow Internet speeds at home in 2011, she led, in 2016, the launch of Jio, which built an all-IP, all-4G wireless telecommunications services from the ground up ushering a digital revolution in India. She helped it become one of the leading mobile data markets in the world; Jio is today India’s largest mobile network operator with over 440 million subscribers. Recently, Ambani was one of the lead negotiators in multiple transactions that led to over $20bn in global equity capital flowing into Jio Platforms Ltd., including a $5.7 bn deal with Facebook. Ambani manages the branding customer experience and marketing of Reliance Retail and Jio. She was also the force behind the launch of fashion portal Ajio.com and oversees the ecommerce venture JioMart that aims to bring the power of ecommerce to small and medium businesses. She also serves as the Director of Reliance Foundation, India’s largest Foundation. Reliance Foundation, among other things, seeks to protect and promote India’s cultural heritage, elevate Indian art and bring global art to India. Committed to the democratization of access to art, Ambani has a deep love for Indian art and a passion to bring that art to new audiences. She has degrees from Yale University and Stanford University and worked as a business analyst at McKinsey & Company in New York.
A Friend of the museum since 2008, Brehm is a corporate executive and lecturer with more than 40 years of experience in global government relations, public policy and international business. She worked at two Fortune 100 companies and several non-profits over the course of her career in Washington, D.C. and Asia. She is the founder and CEO of the consulting firm Brehm Global Ventures LLC and lectures on commercial diplomacy, government affairs and political risk. Brehm retired in 2017 from The Procter & Gamble Co. as vice president for global government relations and public policy. During a 13-year tenure with General Motors Corp., Brehm served as chief international lobbyist in Washington as well as in business expansion roles in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Fluent in Mandarin, she led Asia operations in Hong Kong for ORBIS International, a global NGO working to eliminate avoidable blindness. Brehm currently chairs the board of global health NGO Population Services International. She also sits on the board of governors at the University of New Haven, the board of advisors of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and the Executive Council on Diplomacy. She has taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and University of Michigan (Washington campus). Brehm is a 1977 graduate of Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service with a concentration in Asian studies, and holds an Master of Business Administration in international business from the University of New Haven’s program in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Rejoining the board after serving as chair from 2015 to 2019, when his prior term expired, Kimmelman is a graduate of the Wharton School and Harvard Law School. He established Peter Kimmelman Asset Management LLC in 1979 and represents, among other entities, two Japanese financial institutions. Kimmelman served for some 32 years as a director and member of the executive committee of Republic National Bank of New York and then as a director of HSBC Bank (USA). For the past 25 years, Kimmelman has been a trustee and member of the executive committee of World Monuments Fund and more recently of the American Federation of Aging Research. He is a former member of the National Gallery of Art trustees council and American Federation for the Arts. Mr. and Mrs. Kimmelman are art collectors, concentrating on Asian sculpture and architectural pediments of different periods. They have a passion for travel, having visited more than 100 countries, including most of Asia.
About the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, are located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Committed to preserving, exhibiting and interpreting exemplary works of art, the museum houses exceptional collections of Asian art, with more than 45,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to today. Renowned and iconic objects originate from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, the ancient Near East and the Islamic world. The Freer Gallery also holds a signiﬁcant group of American works of art largely dating to the late 19th century. It boasts the world’s largest collection of diverse works by James McNeill Whistler, including the famed Peacock Room. The National Museum of Asian Art is dedicated to increasing understanding of the arts of Asia through a broad portfolio of exhibitions, publications, conservation, research and education.
As the museum enters its second century, it will build upon the strengths of its two complementary galleries to serve as a national museum that celebrates great art and poses essential questions about culture and society, employing innovative approaches and technology to expand and engage both local and global audiences.