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Spelman’s New Curatorial Studies Program Addresses Critical Museum Industry Diversity Gap Share a Spelman College Press Release

Curatorial Studies Students and FacultyATLANTA (April 6, 2016)
-- A new curatorial studies program at Spelman College has been created to address a diversity gap in the museum industry, and to offer new opportunities for students to work in an expanding field. The program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, began in January 2016 with an introductory curatorial studies course.  Ten students have been accepted into the program, including nine Spelman students and one Morehouse student — a group representing art history, English, music, political science and other majors.
The program is collaboration between the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and the Department of Art and Art History.

Over the course of the next two years, students in the program will have an opportunity to survey global museum and exhibition history, as well as examine the increasingly significant role of contemporary art museums today. The students will also participate in paid summer internships at prominent museums in major cities, including New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta.

Spelman students selected for the program are: Nalani Dowling, C’2019; Stacie Durden, C’2018; Taylor Hall-Debnam, C’2018; Kela Jackson, C’2019; Tramaine Lockhart, C’2017; Achaia Moore, C’2018; Tyra A. Seals, C’2018; Cornelia Stokes, C’2019; and Kassandra Ware, C’2019. The Morehouse student is Jason Overby, C’2017.

Ware, a Pauline E. Drake Scholar, has been an archives assistant at Spelman for the past 10 years. Her work involves conducting research in areas such as individuals and artifacts that are connected to the College. By completing the curatorial program, Ware aims to sharpen her research skills in support of artists and exhibitions at Spelman’s museum and others. “I also would like to learn how museums are efficiently managed and how exhibitions are received and installed,” said Ware. “I am a hands-on person and look forward to assisting in the physical building or arrangement of exhibitions.”

The Mellon Foundation has a lengthy history and strong relationship with Spelman.
While visiting campus in 2014, officials from the foundation met with Spelman’s Museum director, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., C’93, who shared her vision to introduce students to curatorial fields earlier in their academic careers. After a series of conversations, they invited her to apply for a grant to help create a solution. Shortly thereafter, the foundation awarded the grant.

As part of their commitment to diversifying the museum field, the foundation conducted the first comprehensive study of diversity in American art museums. The study revealed that just four percent of museum professionals are African American, with no pipeline toward leadership for persons of color. Spelman’s new program has the potential to make a significant impact, and over time, help reverse this trend.

“There’s been an overwhelming interest in understanding what a curator does. Students need to know what to do in order to explore that career path,” explained Dr. Brownlee. “If just five of our 10 students go on to graduate school and work in this profession, we’ve already made an extraordinary contribution to the field. We’re really excited about the potential to make a difference.”

Dowling, an art major, is considering a career as a curator. When she arrived at Spelman last summer as a first-year student, she admittedly had little knowledge about the field beyond her personal interest in creating and viewing art. “I often would view art placed in museums and galleries without taking the time to think about who decided to place it there, and why,” shared Dowling. “Consequently, I knew I could not miss out on an opportunity with the curatorial studies program to expand my horizons and delve into art in a way that I had never previously experienced.”

The program, with its specific focus on curatorial studies, is the first of its kind at a historically Black college or university.

“The students are extremely excited, and this is an ideal time for us to invest in this next generation of highly-skilled and innovation-driven museum professionals,” said Mora Beauchamp-Byrd, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of art history and curatorial studies, and an art historian, curator and arts administrator who will oversee the new initiative.


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