Photo courtesy Emily Valdes and the Pérez Art Museum Miami

Meet the ASU-LACMA Fellows: Emily Valdes

October 3, 2022
Emily Valdes, Associate Registrar of Exhibitions, PAMM

The ASU-LACMA Master's Fellowship in Art History—developed by LACMA and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University (ASU)—was established to combine academic training and work experience to advance the careers of a new generation of curators, directors, and other museum professionals who are committed to increasing equity and inclusion and engaging new perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds.

The three-year fellowship is intended to complement and expand the important programs at LACMA that help diversify the ranks of curators and other professionals in art museums. Pairing rigorous academic instruction through traditional master's-level coursework and a thesis with on-the-job work experience, LACMA and ASU Art Museum staff who are selected as fellows enroll in two courses per semester remotely, and fulfill language, professional development, and research requirements while continuing in their current role at their respective museums. Fellows receive access to resources at LACMA and the Herberger Institute, and upon completion of the program, receive a master's degree in Art History from ASU. In 2021, the program was also pleased to welcome the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Heard Museum, Phoenix, as new partners, giving their staff the ablity to participate as Fellows. 

We recently caught up with the current Fellows to learn more about their experiences in the program. Below, meet Emily Valdes (she/her/hers).

Emily, what is your role at PAMM?

I am currently the Associate Registrar of Exhibitions at PAMM. I work closely with my exhibitions colleagues and our curators to safely install both permanent collection-based and other incoming exhibitions year-round. Our robust exhibition schedule means I spend most of my time in the galleries and that hands-on aspect of the job is why I enjoy exhibitions work so much. At PAMM, I am lucky to work with a phenomenal (and small, but mighty) team of registrars and preparators who make the intricacies of preparing for, developing, and executing a show seamless.

What drew you to the ASU-LACMA Master's Fellowship in Art History program?

PAMM agreed to join the program in 2021 and when the opportunity was announced to staff, I knew it was the right program for me. I had been interested in getting my master’s degree for some time but always hesitated at the thought of having to put my museum career on hold. This program allowed me to keep my full-time job and continue growing in my career while also working towards my degree. The opportunity to be partnered with a professional mentor based on your future career goals was a major plus for me, as well.

What does a "day-in-the-life" of an ASU-LACMA Fellow look like?

This program is extremely interdisciplinary and goes beyond academic requirements with an added focus on your professional development within the museum world. This means that aside from making time for your classes, readings, and papers, you also meet with your appointed professional mentors to work towards personal goals, attend and moderate ASU hosted lectures, travel and network with your ASU and LACMA peers, et cetera. Essentially, the day-to-day is very busy and time management becomes paramount.

What has been the most interesting or rewarding part of the fellowship so far?

Despite being the geographically furthest removed from both ASU and LACMA, I have been embraced by my amazing cohort and the connections made have already enriched both my career and personal life immensely. Having a network of museum colleagues to consult or exchange ideas with has proven invaluable. Returning to academia after some time away can be extremely daunting but both ASU faculty and my LACMA cohort have been a great support system.

What has been the most challenging part of the fellowship?

Juggling work, school, and personal responsibilities while maintaining time for yourself becomes the biggest challenge. Personally, my role in exhibitions dictates that I am on-site at the museum every day and the physical demands of the job combined with keeping up with course readings and assignments outside of work can be pretty fatiguing. I am still learning to navigate through the guilt when forced to prioritize work over school and vice versa.

How has the experience influenced your career focus or future goals?

My professional mentors at LACMA have exposed me to different structures and roles within museum exhibitions and registration departments and it’s really helped me envision possible roles to grow into as my career develops.

What subject(s) do you plan to focus on in your Master's thesis?

I plan to write on Cuban geometric abstractionist Dolores “Loló” Soldevilla. I’m specifically interested in analyzing how the socio-political revolution of 1959 affected her artistic production thereafter and how she navigated growing anti-abstractionist sentiments of the time.

Former ASU-LACMA Fellows Dhyandra Lawson, Matthew Villar Miranda, and Celia Yang offered a series of provocations to ASU leadership and respected museum directors at the forefront of leading efforts to change the sector at “The Changing Face of Museum Leadership” on Monday, September 12, 2022.