The Chrysler Museum of Art, in partnership with the Hampton University Museum, has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The highly competitive grant will fund Diversifying the Field of Curation and Conservation, a three-year pilot fellowship program for two aspiring museum professionals who have completed master’s degrees. One curatorial fellow and one conservation fellow will examine the Chrysler Museum’s traditional African collection and Hampton University Museum’s Harmon Foundation Collection of Modern African Art. Their work will demonstrate the ongoing importance of collecting, preserving, and studying non-Western art. Applications will open this spring, with the fellowships beginning in September. During the second and third years of the program, one Hampton University undergraduate student will also participate in a paid summer internship at the Chrysler Museum.
“It is an honor to partner with Hampton University Museum to make strides toward diversifying the curatorial and conservation fields while also turning the spotlight on our understudied collections of African art. We look forward to welcoming emerging scholars in the museum field who will benefit from practical training at both institutions, and we are grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s support in this endeavor,” said Kimberli Gant, Ph.D., the Chrysler’s McKinnon Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.
“Many thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its investment and commitment to cultivating and developing diversity in the curatorial and conservation fields,” said Dr. William R. Harvey, Hampton University President. “This contribution will ensure talented and bright students will receive the best training in this field. It also creates a new partnership between the Chrysler Museum of Art and our own museum, the nation’s oldest African American museum and one of the oldest museums in Virginia.”
The fellows will work under the mentorship of Gant and Vanessa Thaxton-Ward, Ph.D., Hampton University Museum’s director, and chief curator, to curate a public exhibition, originate a catalog, and prioritize and conserve a group of objects from the collections. They will also write for Hampton’s influential art journal International Review of African American Art (IRAAA), develop educational curriculum-based materials for college students, and deliver several presentations to the public and the institution’s docents and volunteers. Through their work, the Chrysler’s African collection will benefit from research for new scholarship, while Hampton’s Harmon Foundation Modern African Art collection will gain more notoriety. “We are elated to receive funding from the Mellon Foundation. It is very exciting on many levels, and the Hampton University Museum is committed to working hand-in-hand with the Chrysler Museum of Art to increase diversity in the curatorial and conservation professions. We will draw upon the significant resources that have been developed at Hampton since 1868 and the Chrysler Museum of Art since 1933,” said Thaxton-Ward.
Both fellows will spend the first year of the program focused on the Hampton University Museum’s Harmon Foundation Collection, where they will identity 20–30 paintings for conservation and art historical scholarship. The conservation fellow will be based at the Chrysler Museum, treating the objects in the conservation lab under the leadership of Mark Lewis, the Chrysler’s conservator.
After one year of assessing Hampton’s Harmon collection, the curatorial fellow will spend the second year researching the Chrysler Museum’s collection of African art, identifying 20–30 works for research and conservation, and using the works identified at both institutions to develop education guides for college students and the general public. The curatorial fellow will devote the final year of the program to organizing an exhibition with a small catalog that will be presented at the Chrysler Museum and Hampton University Museum based on their previous two years of research.
“The Mellon Foundation is providing a unique opportunity for the Chrysler Museum and Hampton University Museum to pool our talents and resources to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the museum field while calling attention to the world-class collections and rich community programs in our region. We are eager to offer opportunities for professional growth while also turning our attention to important objects in our African collection. Working together ensures greater exposure for both institutions,” said Erik Neil, the Chrysler Museum of Art’s director.
An article published in International Review of African American Art presents the results of a survey released in 2015 that uncovered a lack of diversity in the museum field, particularly in curatorial, conservation, and other leadership roles. According to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, whites occupy 84% of director, curator, conservator, and educator positions. Asians occupy 6% of those positions, while 4% of the positions are held by Blacks. Hispanic whites occupy 3% of the leadership roles.
Gant and Thaxton-Ward, both women of color, hold more than 30 years of combined curatorial and research experience and have encountered challenges and triumphs in the field. They recognize the need for a fellowship such as this to nurture the next generation of museum professionals and look forward to research about the collection, interpretation, and language. The fellows’ work will result in a more comprehensive picture of art’s global history and have long-lasting impacts on the staff and visitors’ experience at both museums.