Friday, August 4, 2017

Ebony McKinney, a tireless advocate for the arts who pushed for diversity in the community and for unity among local organizations, died unexpectedly July 29 from complications related to pneumonia and lupus. She was 41.

The San Francisco Art Commission (SFAC), where McKinney has worked off-and-on since 2005, announced McKinney’s passing in a statement released Monday afternoon.

“Ebony was a beloved leader in the Bay Area and national arts communities and we appreciate the outpouring of love and support from friends and colleagues,” SFAC’s Director of Cultural Affairs, Tom DeCaigny, wrote. “This is a shock for all of us.”

McKinney was a member of Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders Council from 2009-10. Since learning of her passing, colleagues and friends have been sharing remembrances of McKinney with Americans for the Arts.

“You simply couldn’t be near Ebony and not be affected by her positive approach to life, problem solving and moving the arts forward in creative ways. I was always elated when she and I saw each other across a crowded convention space and she smiled at me. I will miss connecting with her and hearing her enthusiasm for whatever project she was taking on at that time. I speak for the whole team at Americans for the Arts when I say we were lucky to have her guide us and will miss her greatly.”

Mara Walker
Chief operating officer, Americans for the Arts

“I remember Ebony on the end of a pier in Baltimore, late at night full of ideas after a day at Annual Convention. I remember her across the table at a Peruvian restaurant in the Mission, followed by drinks in all her favorite spots. I remember her in a technology lab in Pittsburgh, long before any of us got involved in ‘emerging leader’ affairs, talking about her big move across America.

“Ebony had a real wisdom about people. Even though she had so much insight into the systems of society, she never lost sight of individuals. She made you feel interesting and known. It was always hard to turn the conversation to her, because she was so fascinated by you.  Yet when her ideas came, they demanded a pause. She could really cut through the fluff about hard topics in ways that were both true and kind. She will be missed deeply by those who had the chance to sit across the table from her, whether in the boardroom or the barroom.”

David Seals
TRG Arts
Emerging Leaders Council member, 2009-12

“Ebony spoke from a perspective I wasn't familiar with, but she inspired me to learn more. She was deeply committed to providing arts experiences for everyone, something that we all say we aspire to, but she truly and authentically did. She spoke quietly, but her voice and words were powerful. It is hard to believe she is gone, and she leaves behind a legacy of people, organizations, and communities that are forever changed because of her.”

Stephanie Evans Hanson
Former Americans for the Arts staff member and ELC liaison

“When I was around Ebony, I always felt like I was in the presence of someone so enlightened. Choosy with her words, you could expect Ebony to share something poignant, profound, or quick-witted. Serving on the Emerging Leaders Council with Ebony was inspiring—knowing that there were people like her fighting so fiercely for the arts. Her too-soon passing is a huge loss for the arts, for San Francisco, for her friends and family. Let’s hope we’re all motivated by her legacy to do more to make our arts communities richer and more inclusive.”

Jennifer Wijangco
Houston Grand Opera
Emerging Leaders Council member, 2008-09

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Ebony’s honor to the Red Poppy Art House or Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society. A memorial in the Bay Area will be announced at a later date.

Below: Ebony McKinney (second from right) with the Emerging Leaders Council at Americans for the Arts’ 2010 Annual Convention.