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Kela Jackson Awarded Luce ACLS Dissertation Fellowship in American Arts

March 2024

Kela Jackson HeadshotKéla Jackson, C'2019, has been awarded the Luce American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Dissertation Fellowship in American Arts.

The fellowship includes a $38,000 stipend, plus up to $4,000 as a travel and research allowance. It's an academic year or equivalent, to be held for any continuous period of nine to twelve months between July 2024 and May 2026.

"Spelman laid the groundwork for my dissertation project! I began considering art history through the inaugural curatorial studies program — the seed that now blooms as the AUC Art History and Curatorial Studies Collective. Through that program, I was afforded opportunities to travel to various museums and conferences around the United States. The Museum brought so many interesting scholars and artists our way. It always blows my mind that in my junior year, I was able to meet Deborah Roberts at an exhibition opening, and then four years later, I was interviewing her for a dissertation chapter," said Jackson.

Since 1992, Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art have supported more than 300 historians of American art, including some of the nation’s most distinguished college and university faculty, museum curators, and leaders in the cultural sector. 

"Receiving an ACLS/Luce fellowship speaks to the changes in the field of American art history that reflect the wealth of scholarship being produced by rising scholars that challenge the canon. I am excited that institutions are making room for art history to be in conversation with other disciplines such as Black studies and women, gender, and sexuality studies that enrich the field," said Jackson.

Awards support graduate students in any stage of PhD dissertation research or writing for scholarship on a topic in the history of the visual arts of the United States, including all facets of Native American art. This program is made possible by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. 

"Winning the Luce is a big deal! We currently have an alumna, Marie Angelique Southern, C’2020, who is in Seoul as a Luce scholar. Before her, Eva Dickerson, C’2019, was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This particular award is very competitive because you are competing against very accomplished people for an opportunity to have a fully immersive experience in Asia. Winning requires a clear command of the project you want to complete and the understanding that you're looking to acquire through the experience. Being selected means that you have convinced other very serious people that you are someone who can be trusted to carry out this experience and to translate the opportunity into meaningful work beyond the fellowship," said Dr. Michelle S. Hite, director of the Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program.

"Kéla was in the Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program! I can easily imagine her winning an award of this significance because her intellectual competence is as apparent as her sincerity and kindness. Those traits, in combination, help to make great ambassadors. I'm certainly proud to have Kéla serve as an ambassador for Spelman and for our country." 

An Accomplished History

Jackson was selected as a 2016-2018 Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellow at Atlanta's High Museum of Art. She was one of 10 students from across the country selected for the third class of Mellon curatorial fellows at five partnering U.S. museums.

Click Here to Watch A Curator's Story: Kéla Jackson 

Jackson's Project

UnBecoming: The Poetics of Rupture in Visions of Black Girlhood
Abstract: This project examines how contemporary artists Faith Ringgold, Deborah Roberts, and Clarissa Sligh have privileged Black girls and Black girlhood as key figures and spaces of influence in American art and visual culture. The dissertation reads these artists’ use of ruptural aesthetics—collage, constructed photography, and quilting—as modes of fracturing the visual rhetoric surrounding childhood, citizenship, and nationhood that render Black girls invisible. Ruptural aesthetic then becomes a visual analog to the “in-between-ness” of Black girlhood that must not be elided by dominant discourses of Black studies or Black feminist thought but expand upon it. In-between girl and woman; image and text; past and future, this dissertation tarries in these intermedial spaces, lingering with the possibilities of such openings.

About the ACLS

The American Council of Learned Societies is a nonprofit federation of 80 scholarly organizations dedicated to supporting the development and promoting the circulation of humanistic knowledge throughout society. As the preeminent representative of American scholarship in the humanities and interpretive social sciences, ACLS holds the core belief that knowledge is a public good.

In addition to stewarding and representing its member organizations, ACLS employs its $180 million endowment and over $30 million annual operating budget to support humanistic scholarship to advocate for the centrality of the humanities and interpretive social sciences in the modern world.

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