Joan Abrahamson (Los Angeles, CA, USA) is President of the Jefferson Institute, a public policy institute that brings creative thinking to practical problems. The Institute identifies innovative approaches to current policy problems and works to implement these solutions. A major emphasis of the Jefferson Institute is the future of cities. Other areas of activity are international security and economics, health, and the study of the creative process.
Prior to her work with the Jefferson Institute, Abrahamson was Assistant Chief of Staff to Vice President George H. W. Bush. As a White House Fellow, she served as Special Assistant and Associate Counsel to Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and George Bush. Prior to this, she worked for the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva and for UNESCO’s Division of Human Rights and Peace in Paris. She planned and implemented the Vienna International Congress on the Teaching of Human Rights and the International Symposium on the Political Participation of Women. She served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1990 to 1994.
From 1973-1976, Abrahamson redesigned the Fort Mason Pier Area in San Francisco, converting an army base for use as a community-based arts center and learning environment. Fort Mason has since been designated a model urban park by the National Park Service. She is currently involved with the transformation of the Presidio of San Francisco from an Army base to a National Park.
She is also President of the Jonas Salk Foundation and was Founding Chairman of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Abrahamson was appointed by President Bush to serve on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., and she serves on the boards of: the National Geographic Society, the American Architectural Foundation, the California Institute for the Arts, and UNICEF, among others. She has been a consultant to many organizations, including the Harvard University Center for Urban Affairs, the Rockefeller Commission on the Arts and Education in America, the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Nations University, the Executive Office of the President and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Abrahamson earned a B.A. from Yale University, M.A. from Stanford University, a doctorate in Learning Environments from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. She also served as a law clerk for the Supreme Court of California. In June 1985, Abrahamson was named a MacArthur Prize Fellow.
- Thomas E. Luebke, ed., Civic Art: A Centennial History of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, 2013): Appendix B, p. 539.
- "The MacArthur Truffle Hunt", The New York Times, Anne Matthews, June 7, 1992