Bernice Chu

Bernice Chu, the founding director of the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, will direct planning and operations for the International African American Museum during construction. Provided/IAAM.

Charleston's International African American Museum has selected a key leader for its construction phase, which is set to begin early this fall. 

Bernice Chu, the founding director at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Fla., will oversee planning and operations for the IAAM throughout its construction and for at least six months after its opening, the museum said Wednesday. 

Chu, who will officially start her new job in September, is filling "a really critical role," IAAM outgoing chief executive officer Michael Boulware Moore said. 

Her job will include working closely with the city of Charleston and the contractors on the project and overseeing any final adjustments to the design. 

Chu saw the James Museum, which features about 400 works of art, through its creation and opening last spring. That included crafting the visitor experience, organizing building operations and hiring key staff members. 

Before coming to the James in 2017, Chu also served as the director of facilities and operations at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the manager of museum operations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the associate vice president for design and construction at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Chu started her career as an architect in New York. 

When Chu met with Moore and visited the museum grounds in Charleston, she said she was sure she wanted the IAAM to be her next project. 

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"I said, 'Well, this is it,'" remembered Chu, who noted that the waterfront museum site was a compelling aspect of the project. 

The museum will be built on Wharfside Drive on a section of Charleston Harbor where enslaved people were first brought into South Carolina. 

Chu will be particularly focused on the IAAM's visitor experience. She said she thinks of future visitors as "not just observers, but participants," many of whom may be descendants of enslaved people who landed at the site. 

The IAAM is looking to fill its head role, too, with Moore stepping down as CEO in early August. The former marketing executive announced his departure last month and plans to return to work in the private sector. 

The museum's board will form a search committee to select a new top executive soon, Moore said. Board member and College of Charleston professor emeritus Bernard Powers will serve as interim CEO when Moore leaves. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.