Zoom screenshot of participants

LACMA director and Wallis Annenberg CEO Michael Govan with the 2021 Mellon Summer Academy participants, photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Hilary Walter

2021 Mellon Summer Academy at LACMA

August 17, 2021
Hilary Walter, Manager of Academic Programs

LACMA recently hosted its sixth Mellon Summer Academy but this time was different from previous years. Because of the continued COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on visitor capacity at the museum, the program was a two-week virtual experience. The 15 undergraduate students still had eye-opening experiences learning about the inner workings of museums and considering multiple career paths related to art, art history, and many other fields of study. Plus, they connected with their peers and created engaging final projects that showcase what they want to see on the walls at art museums. The Summer Academy is a component of the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program, which is generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In addition to meeting with museum professionals, the Summer Academy included a virtual exhibition project. The three student groups co-curated a virtual exhibition based on photographs from LACMA’s Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection. They selected photographs around a theme of their choice, researched the artists and artworks, wrote gallery text and object labels, determined the installation of the show, and considered outreach efforts and public programs to engage visitors. Each student group also had a Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellow or alumna as an advisor on their project, enabling the participants to spend time with an individual who is in the next phase of the program. On the final day of the program, each group of students presented their exhibition ideas to the museum’s director, the donor’s family, staff, family, and friends.

Another highlight of the week was a virtual field trip to explore an organization in Los Angeles. This year we connected with staff at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) on the campus of East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park. VPAM has become an artist and community centered space that supports the voices of local artists who represent the diversity of East Los Angeles. Additionally, the two individuals we met with are both alumni of the Summer Academy program. It was wonderful for the current students to learn about the path these alumni took to get to their current positions, as well as understand some of the differences between working at a smaller institution versus a larger one like LACMA.  

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The 2021 Mellon Summer Academy participants on the Q+A panel for their final presentations, photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Hilary Walter

The Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program, established in 2013, provides specialized training to students across the United States from historically underrepresented groups in the curatorial field who support the goal of promoting inclusive, pluralistic museums. The fellowship seeks to make a critical impact on American art museums by developing gifted curators who are committed to engaging the full spectrum of museum audiences. The program occurs at six partnering institutions: the Art Institute of Chicago; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; LACMA; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Next, LACMA, similar to each partner museum, will be selecting students from the recent Summer Academy as Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellows. 

“The LACMA Mellon Summer Academy really opened my eyes to the various careers and skill sets which come together to make a museum possible. The emphasis on pathways and interests, as well as the group project, allowed me to get a taste for each possible career, and ultimately helped to confirm my own choices in my future academic and professional endeavors.” — Constance Villalvazo, 2021 Mellon Summer Academy participant

In the coming weeks we will be sharing an in-depth look at each of the three exhibitions proposed by the participants in the 2021 Mellon Summer Academy. Check back to learn more!