Dr. Desai is the President and CEO of Asia Society, a leading global organization committed to strengthening partnerships among the people, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States. Founded by John D. Rockefeller 3rd in 1956, Asia Society is the premier organization with a unique focus on three-dimensional engagement—combining culture, commerce, and current affairs—with more than 35 countries in Asia. Appointed President in 2004, Dr. Desai sets the direction for the Society’s diverse sets of programs ranging from major U.S.-Asia policy initiatives and national educational partnerships for global learning to path-breaking art exhibitions and innovative Asian American performances. She will step down from her current position on September 1, 2012, to become a Senior Advisor for Global Policy Programs to the Guggenheim Foundation.
Dr. Desai is a frequent speaker at national and international forums on a wide variety of subjects that include US-Asia relationships, cultural roots of Asian economic development, regional connections within the Asia Pacific region, as well as the arts and cultures of Asia and Asian America. She has authored many opinion pieces that have appeared in over 50 publications around the world. As a scholar of Asian art, Dr. Desai has published and edited several books and numerous articles on traditional and contemporary art. She has an international reputation for introducing contemporary Asian art in the U.S. through critically acclaimed exhibitions and scholarly catalogues. Under her leadership, Asia Society has expanded the scope and scale of its activities, including opening of new offices in India and Korea, the inauguration of a new center on US-China relations, and the development of new initiatives focusing on the environment, on Asian women leaders and on partnerships among the next generation of exceptional leaders in Asia and the United States. In 2012, she oversaw the inauguration of two major architectural facilities for Asia Society Centers in Hong Kong and Houston, Texas.
Prior to assuming her current position as President, Dr. Desai held several positions at Asia Society, first as Director of its Museum, and then as Vice President for Arts and Cultural Programs and as Senior Vice President of the Society. Before joining Asia Society in 1990, Dr. Desai was a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the head of Public Programs and Academic Affairs. She has also taught at the University of Massachusetts, Boston University, Columbia University and Williams College.
Dr. Desai holds a B.A. in political Science from Bombay University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Asian Art History from the University of Michigan. The recipient of numerous international and national grants and fellowships, Dr. Desai has received honorary degrees from Susquehanna University, College of Staten Island, and Centre College. For her work on Asian American issues, she has received awards from the University of Massachusetts, City University of New York, Asian Americans for Equality, and Leadership Education for Asian Pacific Americans (LEAP). For her leadership in the arts, she has been honored by ArtTable, a national organization of women leaders in the arts, and has received a Gold Medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences. Dr. Desai was selected by Crain’s New York as one of the “100 most powerful women leaders” in New York, by India Abroad, the leading national weekly for Indian Americans, as one the “50 most distinguished Indian Americans,” and was honored by Zee T.V. (India) as the outstanding International Woman of the Year.
Dr. Desai serves on the boards of The Brookings Institution, Citizens Committee for New York City, Bertelsmann Foundation (USA), Asian University for Women and the New York City Mayor’s Advisory Commission for Cultural Affairs. She has also been appointed to the international Advisory Committee for the House of World Cultures, Berlin, and the Fondazione Intercultura, Italy. She served as the President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in 1998-99, and was on the Board from 1995-2000. She has also served on the Boards of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics), the South Asian Council of the Association of Asian Studies, the College Art Association, ArtTable, and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.
Dr. Desai is married to Robert B. Oxnam, a China scholar, who was Asia Society’s President from 1981-1992.