Spelman Receives $5.4M for Art History and Curatorial Studies Initiative

By Tiffany Pennamon

Increasing diversity in museum curatorship is the basis of a new initiative at Spelman College established through the support of a five-year, $5.4 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

The Atlanta University Center (AUC) Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies initiative will create a pipeline into art museum leadership and position Spelman, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University to be leading producers of African-American museum professionals nationally, Spelman officials said. A new Art History major and Curatorial Studies minor at the historically Black college will stem from the initiative.

“The Atlanta University Center has a rich history of excellence in the arts,” said Spelman president Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell. “The Walton Family Foundation grant builds on this history. We applaud the foundation’s commitment to closing the diversity gap to ensure that leadership at the nation’s cultural institutions begins to reflect the shifting demographic profile of the communities they serve.”

An increase in diversity of museum leadership will advance the “pioneering contributions” of Black museum administrators, said Dr. Melanee Harvey, assistant professor of art history at Howard University and a Spelman alumna. Currently, minorities hold only 16 percent of museum leadership positions, despite making up 38 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2015 survey by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“Diversity in museum leadership means that decisions made around art and matters of representation will reflect the true diversity of perspectives and cultures that make up American identity,” Harvey added. “Diversity and inclusion are needed for deciding how money is spent, what artists are exhibited, how the art is interpreted as well as removing and undoing the legacy of exclusionary perspectives.”

This fall, AUC leaders will be planning efforts to enhance coursework in Art History and Curatorial Studies and work to raise awareness and attract students to the new courses and program.

The Walton Family Foundation grant will support the initiative by funding:

-Scholarships for Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta students to incentivize their enrollment in the Art History major and Curatorial Studies minor and for Art History majors to minor in fields such as business and technology;

-Opportunities for hands-on experiences through paid internships at major museums, archives and other cultural institutions across the country;

-Hiring a distinguished visiting professor/director, a visiting associate professor of art history and curator-in-residence;

-A 2019 lecture series, featuring at least three guest lecturers who will deliver public lectures in the field of art history and museum professions on all three campuses;

-An intensive summer program for high school students, starting in 2019, to cultivate a pipeline of talented, diverse students interested in pursuing museum careers; and

-Bringing in guest faculty members in art history for each academic year.

Clark Atlanta president Dr. Ronald Johnson said the grant for the AUC Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies initiative recognizes “the importance of our collection of mid-century African-American Art at CAU.”

Morehouse president Dr. David A. Thomas said the gift will enable Morehouse students and AUC peers to increase their knowledge in the arts and be competitive in top graduate programs in art and curatorial studies.

Leaders in art, museum curation, education and philanthropy praised the gift and new initiative for the opportunities it will bring AUC students – a nurturing environment filled with mentorship, collaborations with prominent museums and experiential learning.

Reflecting back on her Spelman experience, Harvey said the college gave her the skills and confidence needed in the field, leading her to pursue a Ph.D. in the History of Art and Architecture.

“Spelman gave me the tools to be ambitious, prepared but most of all audacious and creative in thinking about art production and visual representation,” she said, adding that there are several generations of art historians, museum administrators and cultural influencers with Spelman degrees.

“This grant means there will be more support and assurance that this tradition of Spelmanites shifting the museum landscape will be amplified,” she said. “It is promising to know the Walton Family Foundation is facilitating Spelman in their choice to change the art and museum world.”

This article originally appeared in Birmingham Times.

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