Underground Museum Looks to Philadelphia Curator

Meg Onli will join the Los Angeles museum as director and curator, co-leading with Cristina Pacheco. Onli’s priority: spending time in Arlington Heights.


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Meg Onli will join the Underground Museum in Los Angeles as director and curator, co-leading the museum with director and chief operations officer Cristina Pacheco.

Onli joins the museum from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, where she was a curator. Pacheco has been co-interim director and chief operations officer since 2020, and has served on the board of the Underground Museum since 2015.

“The co-leader model feels like the future,” Onli said in a recent phone interview. “The UM has always been a collective, so working collaboratively is natural.”

In 2012, the artists Noah and Karon Davis founded the Underground Museum in four converted storefronts in the Arlington Heights neighborhood of central Los Angeles. Three years later, Noah Davis died. Throughout its existence, the museum has been a gathering place for people in the neighborhood and a destination for Black art. Onli said that she was excited to continue the couple’s legacy.

“The curatorial practice was one of the things that drew me to the UM,” Onli said. “The way Noah was making shows was in line with mine, shows that were big and bold and not constrained.”

Onli has been interested in race and representation throughout her career. She is the creator of the Black Visual Archive, a website devoted to writing about Black visual culture. She is also the first person to win the Figure Skating Prize, which is given to Black curators, artists and scholars.

“What Noah was doing was really taking a Black lens not only on Black art, but on all kinds of different art,” Onli said. “For me, moving forward at the UM, I want to ask: what does a Black lens look like across all kinds of different bodies of work, not only Black American artists?”

Onli begins the job on Dec. 1. She said that one of her first priorities will be to spend time in Arlington Heights.

“I’m looking forward to getting into the neighborhood and see how the UM fits,” Onli said. “Who are the people who are coming to the museum, but also who are the people owning shops?”

Pacheco mentioned the magic of the place, and the importance of connection “even when those things feel lacking in the wider world,” she said in a statement. “I hope our museum continues to demonstrate the power of art.”

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