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AUC Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective to Graduate Inaugural Class

January 2021

Spelman Senior Jordan Dantzler and the AUC Art CollectiveJordan Dantzler, a senior art major and curatorial studies minor, has always been interested in the arts and knew that would be her major at Spelman College. But, she wasn’t sure what her future would look like.

A trip sponsored by the AUC Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective to visit museums in New York City changed her world view.

“When I saw Black women leading in this area, it made me realize that I could do this,” Dantzler said. “I knew that I could be a curator at a museum and change the way we are seen.”

The AUC Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective is a new, but very strong program that has garnered national and international attention. This spring, Dantzler will join nine other students as the inaugural graduating class. Five Art History majors and five students who have other majors and minor in Curatorial Studies will graduate.

Housed at Spelman, the AUC Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective, a new programmatic initiative designed for future art historians, curators, museum professionals and those pursuing a career in the visual arts, enrolls students from Clark Atlanta UniversityMorehouse College and Spelman College. “These are students who want to make a difference in the art world, who want to elevate art created by people of African descent,” said Collective Director Dr. Cheryl Finley.

Currently, there are 29 students in the academic program, Finley said.  Of that number, nine are art history majors and 17 are curatorial studies minors. Three students are majoring in Art History and minoring in Curatorial Studies, she said.

The Collective was established in May 2015 with a $5.4 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation. Administrators spent the first year developing the curriculum, and began enrolling students in 2019, Finley said. “The Walton family are very interested in creating more diversity in the art world, increase access to arts and inspire the next generation of leaders,” she said.

Students who are drawn to the program are usually born leaders, Finley said. “They are empowered to take a seat at the table when other students would shy away,” she said.

The Collective offers interdisciplinary programs, Finley said, so students can major in art history and minor in computer science, or major in economics and minor in curatorial studies.

“Our students can go out and design the best web-based platform for selling African-American art, become scholars, become curators of history, art and manuscripts, or directors of a museum,” Finley said. “Many of the students we work with have that vision to go out and see themselves in the art industry and disrupting the status quo.”

Students are already figuring out ways to use web platforms to learn about stolen African art located across Europe, Finley said. They create new ways to keep records, using technology to return objects that were possibly acquired by nefarious means to their homelands, she said.

 Spelman junior Temp Stewart and the AUC Art CollectiveSpelman junior Tempe Stewart was originally a biochemistry major. She planned on majoring in pre-med but changed her mind during her first semester of her sophomore year. “I had to take a fine arts course, so I took an African American art class and fell in love,” Stewart said.

While taking the class, Stewart felt a deep connection to her late grandfather, renowned California artist Michael Cavanaugh Perry.

“I grew up with his works in our home, and I felt a deep connection. He died when my mother was 7 years old, but I always felt like I knew him,” Stewart said.

Though she had never heard about the art history or curatorial studies programs, it took Stewart less than a week to change her major to Art History. “I met with Dr. Finley and she explained more about the major. It just felt right; this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.

Stewart hopes to work for a nonprofit that will expose more underserved children to the art world. “They face a lot of barriers, so I want to help open the world to them and help them be empowered by these institutions,” she said. “I want to help them feel like they belong and find their place in the art world.”

The program has grown in prominence, said Finley, and is drawing attention from across the globe. “Not a week goes by without someone calling from national and international organizations asking if they can partner with us. We have to make sure that it serves our students, our program and grantors,’ she said.

Meanwhile, Dantzler and her classmates eagerly await commencement and the start of their future in the art world.

“Growing up in South Carolina, I didn’t know about the different opportunities in the art world,” said the Rock Hill native who is currently a research intern at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA ).

“People love to push the starving artist narrative, but the Collective has opened up so many opportunities for me. I want others to know that they have a space in the museum world if that is what they want.”

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