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Joan Sandler

Joan Delores Sandler was born on October 2, 1934 in Harlem, New York. Her mother worked as a nurse’s aide and domestic and her father was an elevator operator. Sandler was educated in New York City public schools earning her high school diploma in 1952 from the New York High School of Music and Arts.

After graduation, Sandler worked as a clerk for an insurance company. She also surrounded herself with artists and musicians, while becoming a political activist involved in the peace movement. In the early 1960s, Sandler began studying theatre with the Negro Ensemble Company and landed a role on the television drama series, Black Girl.

She began her art career in 1975, working as a program specialist for the Department of Cultural Affairs. Sandler then went on to work for the Black Theatre Alliance and Fundraising in the Public Interest. From 1983 until 1987, she worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she was in charge of community education. She also worked for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Museum of American Folk Art. In 2001, Sandler served as executive director for the foundation of her longtime friend, artist Romare Bearden. The Romare Bearden Foundation continues Bearden’s visual arts legacy through community outreach and education.

Sandler continues to consult in arts education. She has worked as a lecturer and faculty member at Hunter College, New York University, Marymount College and Princeton. She has served as an advisor to many foundations and grant making organizations. Sandler has received a number of awards and honors for her contributions to arts education.

Sandler passed away on April 7, 2020.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status



Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

P.S. 10 Magnet School for Science and Technology

P.S. 113 Anthony J. Pranzo

Julia Ward Howe Junior High School 81

Ps 333 Manhattan School For Children

Speakers Bureau


Speakers Bureau Availability

Depends on Schedule

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

New York



Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Adults, Seniors, Cultural Organizations and Artists

Speakers Bureau Honorarium


Favorite Season


Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Adults, Seniors, Cultural Organizations and Artists


New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Southern Europe, Caribbean, South America

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York



Favorite Food

Soul Food, French, Italian, West Indian Food

Death Date


Short Description

Arts educator Joan Sandler (1934 - 2020) worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Endowment for the Arts. She was also a lecturer and faculty member at several colleges and universities.


Romare Bearden Foundation

Museum of American Folk Art

National Endowment for the Arts

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fundraising in the Public Interest

The Black Theater Alliance

New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 5 Joan Sandler describes how she would like to be remembered</a>







Joan Sandler remembers a special Christmas with her mother
Joan Sandler talks about working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York
Tell me a little bit about the Christmas with no ornaments.$$Yeah. That was the building, yeah, before we moved to 113th Street [New York, New York]. And, I guess I was ten years old around that time, maybe a little older. And, we knew it was Christmas and we knew there was not a gift in the house. And, no special foods 'cause normally there would be that. There was just a very poor Christmas. And, my mother [Mary Wade Alexander] had a boyfriend at that time and either he was still with his family and coming back and forth, or he just wasn't present. And, we had nothing. And, my mother said--and, I guess we were just sort of walking around, you know, just looking sad but not complaining loud, but my mother saw that. And, she just took all these magazines and pieces of paper and she made all these wonderful things by hand. And, she got us involved in making it. And, my brothers tell the same story. They were smaller than me at the time. And, she just had this incredible spirit and magic about her that she could pull us from the dust bin really, and make, make Christmas. And, all--so these decoration were handmade. My mother was very good with her hands. She was a great seamstress, and she was a great cook, and she, she just had this creative spirit. And, it's a Christmas--and we had just about enough food in the house at that time. And, it's a Christmas I and my brothers, when we get together, we talked about it. But, now my older brothers have passed away, but they remembered it very well. And, they remember her spirit.$Let's talk about your work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art [(The Met), New York, New York].$$Yeah. I was trying to remember where I was just before I went to The Met. Let me get this story straight, now (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) You were at Fundraising in the Public Interest.$$Yeah, Fundraising--I guess I did go straight to The Met from there. In fact, the position that was created before I went there, my dear friend Herb Scott-Gibson [Herbert Scott-Gibson] was working for them. And, it were called [Department of] Community Education. There was a whole education department that was devoted to non--all the stuff The Met had not done for years. It was making the museum accessible for people in wheelchairs. It was bringing in community groups if you live--coming to the gallery; was working with senior citizens. I had about, it was in that department about four or five places for people. Also, doing bilingual lecturers and that kind of thing. I think I mentioned that. But, my friend Herb Scott-Gibson who had that job for about two years passed away. And, he was a good friend of mine. He passed away and, and it was rather shocking. And, then I--someone from The Met called me and said, you know, "They're looking for someone, would you come in and interview for it?" I must have known at least a dozen people from around the country--no, didn't know who they were, in some cases I knew them; who interviewed for it. And, I, you know, I was interested in the job certainly but it was always fascinating to me that when Philippe de Montebello said, "She's the one" (laughter). So, I said, "Okay, not bad, not bad." I was told that much later by people who sat in on the interview. So, I was there for I guess close to four years with a very exciting department. A couple of snakes in the grass who tried to, you know, bite my ankles off and that kind of thing.$$(Laughter).$$And, but we did a lot of wonderful things and as a result I was able to also bring musicians into the museum, like Randy Weston and people like that; have an afternoon talk between Romare Bearden and [HistoryMaker] Richard Long, have those ki- that caliber of people there. The head of the Museo [de Arte de Puerto Rico] in [Santurce] Puerto Rico, the head of the culture institutions there would come. And, we'd do whole wonderful talks in Spanish. And, I asked to Philippe to introduce them, 'cause Philippe spoke Spanish even though he's, he's French, he spoke wonderful Spanish. And, he would, you know, some of the scholars he knew. So, I was able to just move into a lot of different directions with enormous resources. And, then, then things got a little tight there and a little funny 'cause I was also very much a favorite, not just by Philippe but also by the president of the museum, Bill Macomber [William B. Macomber Jr.]. And, and then the last thing I did there working with my neighbor who has a Ph.D. from Harvard [University, Cambridge, Massachusetts], I did a study on the needs and the patterns of professionals of color and art museums in America. And, I had mostly--focusing actually on the northeast and maybe the mid, mid-Atlantic states, yeah, down passed Washington [D.C.].$$What did you discover in your study (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well, I discovered that art museums are the hardest places to work in, in that you're--the, being accepted and considered on the par as your white counterpart, even if you might come in with all the degrees and everything, that never happened. Art museums adjusted poorly and slowly to what was the changing population on many levels. Not just in the program area but in the hiring practices and that kind of thing. We found that museums that weren't, even though they weren't a part of the study that were like science museum, natural history museum, historical societies were a little more open to, to diversity. And, to diversity among professionals and encouraging that. It was, it was an interesting study. It was used for a long time in a lot of situations, and it was, it was known all over the country. And, I was active in the museum professional associations, and that kind of thing. And, then that was the last thing I did and that was my last year at The Met.