September 30, 2018; Birmingham Times
NPQ has for some time been covering the lack of diversity in curatorial and leadership roles at US art museums, most recently in this newswire by Chelsea Dennis on efforts at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA). The Walton Family Foundation, one of the funders involved in CMA’s efforts to advance diversity-minded “structural change,” has made another investment aimed at closing the diversity gap in museum leadership, this time in Atlanta. A $5.4 million, five-year grant from the foundation will benefit students at three historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University.
The grant to the nonprofit Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC), which includes the three above-mentioned institutions as well as Morehouse School of Medicine, will establish the AUCC Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies. Specifically, as reported in the Birmingham Times, the grant will support:
- Scholarships at all three schools “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”
- Paid internships for enrolled students at major museums, archives, and other cultural institutions
- A distinguished visiting professor/director, a visiting associate professor of art history, and curator-in-residence, plus guest faculty for each academic year
- A 2019 lecture series, with at least three guest lecturers presenting at all three campuses on topics relating to art history and museum professions
- An intensive summer program for high school students, beginning in 2019
Dr. Melanee Harvey, a Spelman alumna and assistant professor of art history at Howard University, commented on the significance of this initiative,
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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. 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.
Clark Atlanta president Dr. Ronald Johnson noted that his institution has an important collection of mid-century African American art, which will support the initiative. Morehouse president Dr. David A. Thomas expressed hope that the grant will help make students from the three colleges more competitive when they apply to top graduate programs in art and curatorial studies.
Spelman president Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell noted that AUCC “has a rich history of excellence in the arts” and said, “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.”—Eileen Cunniffe