Dr. Vishakha Desai is an Adjunct Professor 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 arts and ideas 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 from American Universities.  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 Art Table, 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 Museums and Library Services Board.  She currently serves as the sole female independent director on the Corporate Board of Mahindra and Mahindra, one of the five largest global companies in India.  She has served on numerous boards of not-for-profit organizations nationally and internationally. These include; Bertelsman Foundation, AFS Intercultural Programs, Auroville Foundation of India, and the House of World Cutlures, Berlin.  She also serves as the Chair of the  Advisory Board of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center  and an Advisory Trustee of the Brookings Institution.  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. 


Honorary Degrees:

Doctor of Humane Letters, Williams College, 2014; Doctor of Humane Letters, Centre College, 2008; Doctor of Humane Letters, Pace University, 2008; The College of Staten Island, NY 2006; Doctor of Fine Arts, Susquehanna University, PA, 1996.

Honors and Awards:

Cultural Leadership award, CEC Arts Link, 2013; Leadership Award, Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc. (LEAP), 2011; Distinguished Service to the Visual Arts, ArtTable, 2008; Most Powerful Women in New York, Crains, 2007;  Asian American Leadership Award, Asian Americans for Equality, 2004; Distinguished Graduate Student Award, University of Michigan, 1988; (on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies); Outstanding Teaching Fellow Award, the University of Michigan, 1977; Indo-US Subcommission Museum Travel Grant, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1994; Asian Culture Council Travel Grant, 1992; Museum Sabbatical Award,  National Endowment for the Arts, 1983


Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at Bellagio, Italy, 2000; Teaching Fellowships, the University of Michigan, History of Art Department, 1975-77; Dissertation Fellowship, American Institute of Indian Studies, 1977; Helen Anderson Scholarship for Outstanding Achievement in Sanskrit, St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad, 1966-67; American Field Service International Scholarship, 1966-67, Honor Student Fellowship for Overall Excellence, St. Xavier’s College, 1965-69; National Merit Scholarship, India, 1965-69.


Board of Directors Appointments:

Mahindra and Mahindra ( corporate Board), India, Chair of the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee  ( 2012-present), Bertelsmann Foundation, USA (2010-present), Auroville Foundation, India, (2006-present), Brookings Institution (2005-present), Asian University for Women (2004-2008), American Federation of Arts (2002-2008), American India Foundation (2002-2006), Citizens Committee for New York City (2000-Present), President of the Association of Art Museum Directors, (1995-98), Board member from 1995 – 2000, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts board member, LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics), College Art Association, South Asia Council, Association of Asian Studies, Art Table, Inc. board member, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Board member and President (nominated by Governor Dukakis 1988-90), Japan Society, Boston.