Dr. Vishakha Desai is Special Advisor for Global Affairs to the President of Columbia University and Professor of Professional Practice at the School of International and Public Affairs. She also serves as Senior Advisor for Global Programs to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Dr. Desai served as President and CEO of the Asia Society, a global organization dedicated to strengthening partnerships among peoples of Asia and the U.S. from 2004 through 2012. As President, she set the direction for the Society's diverse sets of programs ranging from policy initiatives and national educational programs to ground breaking exhibitions and performing arts programs throughout its network of eleven offices in the U.S. and Asia. Under her leadership the society expanded the scope and scale of its activities with the opening of new offices in India and Korea, a new center of U.S.-China Relations, various leadership initiatives, and inauguration of two new architecturally distinguished facilities in Hong Kong and Houston. Prior to becoming President, Dr. Desai held various senior positions at the Asia Society from 1990 to 2004.
Before joining the Asia Society in 1990, Dr. Desai was at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as a Curator and the Head of Public Programs and Academic Affairs. She has taught at Columbia University, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts where she was given a tenured appointment. A Scholar of Asian Art and a public intellectual, Dr. Desai is a frequent speaker at international forums on subjects focusing on cultural roots of Asia's economic and political transformation and challenges. She has authored opinion pieces on political, cultural, and women's development in Asia that have appeared in more than fifty publications around the world. Author of major exhibition catalogues and editor of a major scholarly publication on Asian Art History for the 21st Century, Dr. Desai is internationally recognized for her leadership in presenting contemporary Asian Art to western audiences.
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 four honorary degrees. 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.
In 2012, in recognition of Dr. Desai's leadership in the museum field, President Barack Obama appointed her to serve on the National Commission on Museums and Libraries - she also serves as a member of the Mayor's Commission for Cultural Affairs in New York City and on the International Advisory Committee for the House of World Cultures, Berlin, and for the Auroville Foundation, Berlin. She is also an Advisory Trustee of the Brookings Institution, and a Trustee of the Bertelsmann Foundation USA and Citizen's Committee for New York. She served as President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) from 1998 to 1999 and on the board from 1995 to 2000. She has served on the board of the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, 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.