LACMA recently hosted its inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy, a one-week behind-the-scenes introduction to the curatorial process in a large art museum. The project is a component of the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program, generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The individuals selected to be part of Summer Academy comprised an impressive cohort of undergraduate students currently enrolled at colleges, universities, and community colleges throughout Southern California, with an expressed interest in art, art history, or the museum field. Many of the participants have never worked in an art museum nor have they learned about the curatorial process in an art institution through professionals in the field. Summer Academy at LACMA aimed to change that by exposing students to a rich experience in the museum environment with workshops, tours, field trips, and networking events with museum staff.
Despite having only recently met, the students co-curated a virtual exhibition drawn from objects in LACMA’s encyclopedic collection. The exhibition, Siva in Context: Explorations of LACMA’s Permanent Collection, positioned a single contemporary video piece as a catalyst for exploring artwork in the museum’s collections of Art of the Ancient Americas, European Painting, Latin American Art, Art of the Pacific, and South and Southeast Asian Art. The presentation offered a thematic grouping of artworks from disparate regions and time periods, touching upon issues of movement, death, and colonialism. As curators, each student applied his/her art historical knowledge to the exhibition’s organization, researched and wrote didactics, and shared information about a specific object in the show during an exhibition walk-through.
LACMA curators led tours of the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, and informal discussions, allowing the participants to gain insight into the role and career path of a curator. An off-site field trip to the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) illustrated to the students the bountiful mural history of Venice, the subject of LACMA’s current exhibition Edward Biberman: Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice and, at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, studio visits with local and national artists in residence acquainted Summer Academy participants with the artistic process.
The group met with a wide range of staff members who regularly collaborate with curators on museum projects, including a representative from the Education Department who discussed a painting that was recently donated to the museum and a conservator from the Conservation Center to learn about the scientific techniques used to care for the objects in the museum’s collection.
This program is incredibly important because students were able to gain first-hand knowledge of a curator’s responsibilities within a large art museum such as LACMA, the education required to become a curator, the collaborative nature of curatorial work, and the numerous career paths that can lead to working within an art organization. Lilia Rocio Taboada, one of the participants, spoke about her experience a few weeks ago: “Participating in the Mellon Summer Academy at LACMA was an incredible opportunity. Learning through an intensive exhibition process and meeting museum staff from a variety of departments allowed me to expand my understanding of a curator's position and collaboration within the museum institution. The opportunity has also helped me better understand the experience required to continue my studies at the graduate level.”
The Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program, established in 2013, provides specialized training in the curatorial field to students across the United States from historically underrepresented groups. LACMA has taken a leadership role in launching the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program, and is pleased to partner with four other American art museums including: the Art Institute of Chicago; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, in an effort to diversify the curatorial ranks of American art museums. Each of the five partner museums will offer a Summer Academy this summer and in 2015. Next LACMA, similar to each partner museum, will be selecting two multiyear Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellows from the promising students in the Summer Academy group. Please check LACMA’s website in the future for details about the fellows and the 2015 Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy at LACMA. For more information about the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program visit this page. Hilary Walter, Coordinator of Curatorial Fellowships, Art Administration and Collections