Luis Cancel

Harvard University – Master of Arts in Public Administration, 1990
New York University – Master of Arts in Art Administration, 1987
Pratt Institute – Bachelor of Fine Arts, 1975

Luis R. Cancel – artist, arts administrator, and distinguished public servant has a distinguished 30- year career as the head of various not-for-profit and public agencies. Until recently he served as the Director of Cultural Affairs for the City of San Francisco, appointed to that position by Mayor Gavin Newsom in January 2008. In that capacity, he oversaw the San Francisco Arts Commission ( until July 2011 when he resigned after Mayor Newsom was elected Lt. Governor of California. While serving in San Francisco, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Mr. Cancel to the National Museum of the American Latino Commission (2009-2011), established by Congress and the President to study the potential creation of such a museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution.

From 2005 until December 2007 he was Executive Director of the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center in New York City, where he raised $14.04 million in capital renovation grants. He has served as an independent curator and consultant in the areas of institutional development and strategic planning for various foundations and government agencies (see ECC below). In 2009, he became a founding member of Rio Cidade Criativa (Rio Creative City, a decade-long initiative based in Rio de Janeiro to foment the arts and community development in the city that is being impacted by hosting the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016).

Formerly, Mr. Cancel was Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs ( Appointed by Mayor David N. Dinkins in December 1991, Mr. Cancel became the first Latino ever to hold that position as the fifth Commissioner in the agency's history. During his tenure (1991-1994), he worked closely with Mayor Dinkins to raise the level of city support for the arts and sciences, increasing the agency's operating support budget from $69 million to $89 million, making it the nation's third largest public agency supporting arts and culture. In addition, Mr. Cancel oversaw the Capital Improvements budget of $100 million. As Commissioner, Mr. Cancel worked with leaders from all of the arts disciplines to document the economic contributions of the arts to New York City's economy.

In 1978 he was named Executive Director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts. He was the youngest Museum Director and the only Latino in the country to direct a county museum. During his tenure (1978-1991), he was responsible for the Bronx Museum becoming one of the most respected and innovative cultural institutions in New York City. He guided the Museum's expansion from the Bronx County Courthouse to a 42,000 square feet (3,902 square meters) permanent building and successfully oversaw a $6.5 million capital campaign and renovation project. Under Mr. Cancel’s direction, the Bronx Museum subsequently developed a master plan for a second physical plant expansion of $22 million and Mr. Cancel secured municipal capital support of $18.75 million for that project.

While Directing the Bronx Museum, Mr. Cancel received a Museum Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to research Latin American art. He traveled extensively throughout Latin America and established important contacts for the Museum with major collectors, galleries and museums. He also curated several major exhibitions including: the First, Second and Third Emerging Expressions Biennials: The Artists and the Computer; Devastation/Resurrection: The South Bronx; Krishna Reddy, a Retrospective; and the highly acclaimed Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970.

The Bronx Museum received extensive national and local media coverage for its exhibitions and public programs. Mr. Cancel has conducted numerous print and broadcast interviews on a wide variety of topics and has been featured as the cover story for the Sunday Arts and Leisure Section of The New York Times (September 25, 1988).

He was President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Council for the Arts (ACA is now known as the Americans for the Arts), having been appointed to that post in April of 1994. ACA was a national membership organization, founded in 1960, whose mission then and now is to promote public policies that advance and document the contributions of the arts and artists to American life. During his tenure, Mr. Cancel helped ACA to focus its activities and become an arts information provider. In 1994 he conceived and established ACA’s pioneering Internet Web site, ArtsUSATM (

Mr. Cancel has maintained an active consulting practice via Entrepreneurial Cultural Consulting (ECC), which he originally founded in 1995 as Esperanto Internet Services (EIS) to facilitate network communication between individuals of diverse nations and cultures. EIS positioned itself to benefit from the growing need to translate information over the Internet. This information technology company provided multilingual, Web site design; quality translations in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish; and proofreading services. EIS assisted clients with the design and development of those multi-lingual Web sites and EIS sold its domain name to the International Esperanto Society in 2007.

Since then, Mr. Cancel has used ECC to undertake selective cultural consulting projects involving strategic planning, fund raising and institutional development for numerous clients including The Rockefeller Foundation, The US-Mexico Fund for Culture and in 1998 he conducted a feasibility study for the establishment of a Museum of the Americas for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC. Other consulting clients include: Thor Equities (NYC); Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro; Instituto Tomie Ohtake (São Paulo); the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Fundación Eugenio Mendoza (Caracas), The Quipus Cultural Foundation (La Paz), Lord Cultural Resources (Toronto), The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts (Utah).

As a member of the Smithsonian Council (1990-1997), he headed up a review of the Smithsonian Institution’s publishing and electronic projects. As a consultant, he conducted a feasibility study for the establishment of a Museum of the Americas for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, DC. In 1999, he was a consultant to The Rockefeller Foundation, assigned by the Foundation to provide technical assistance to Latin American arts groups.

Mr. Cancel has been a guest lecturer at several prestigious national and international museums and universities including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, The Aspen Institute, and Central University of Caracas. He has maintained an active interest in both the arts and sciences and he has been at the forefront of urging cultural organizations to utilize the Internet and New Media to reach new audiences. He hosted a weekly 2-hour Internet radio Podcast, Loisaida Cultural Wire, on, and in San Francisco, he establish and co-hosted CultureWire, a weekly cable TV and Internet-based television program. (

Mr. Cancel entered Pratt Institute in 1970, where he studied painting and printmaking with a minor in Anthropology. After earning his B.F.A. from Pratt in 1975, Mr. Cancel received a study fellowship from the American Friends Service Committee to research 20th Century Puerto Rican Art. When this research ended, he became the Gallery Director of the Cayman Gallery, the first Latin American art gallery in SoHo, New York. During his 1975-1977 tenure, Mr. Cancel began his continuing affiliation with most of the major Hispanic cultural institutions, including Taller Boricua, El Museo del Barrio, and The Mexican Museum (San Francisco and Chicago).

In 1987 he received a Master of Arts degree in Museum Management/Arts Administration from New York University. During the 1989-1990 academic year, he went on an academic sabbatical from the Bronx Museum, and in 1990, received his second Master of Arts degree in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Mr. Cancel also studied educational software design and interactive CD-ROM production at the Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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