THE ART, EXHIBITIONS, AND PROGRAMMING featured in museums and cultural institutions is largely shaped, guided and decided upon by curators, an elite group lacking racial and ethnic diversity. A recent survey from the Mellon Foundation found that representation for black curators (conservators, educators and leaders) in the museum sector is dismal—just 4 percent.
To address the issue, two foundations made new commitments aimed at training and hiring curators of color. In November, the Ford Foundation and Walton Family Foundation announced the Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative, a $6 million effort to diversify management and curatorial staffs at U.S. museums through creative solutions.
The diversity initiative supports “innovative strategies and programs to advance diversity across the sector, including hiring professionals from under-represented populations and offering fellowships, mentorships, and other career development options for diverse professionals.” Twenty programs are being funded at museums such as the Studio Museum in Harlem, major mainstream museums, and galleries at HBCUs.
Also last month, heeding its own research, the Mellon Foundation extended its undergraduate curatorial fellowship program at six major museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Philadelphia Museum of Art. The foundation announced an additional $3.25 million to continue the program for another five years.
Meanwhile, some progress is evident. As decision makers broaden their pools of consideration and cultural leadership becomes more diverse, talented curators and programming professionals of African descent are gaining experience and securing coveted opportunities. Over the past year, a number of curators took on new appointments at major museums and also have been tapped for programming roles at art fairs and biennials, international presentations with increasing influence in the global art world. A selection of new 2017 appointments follows. The group is overwhelmingly female:
Makeda Best’s new post at Harvard Art Museums marks a return to her alma mater. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. | Photo by Unique Nicole, Courtesy Harvard Art Museums
Makeda Best, Curator of Photography | Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass.
Harvard Art Museums appointed Makeda Best curator of photography in January. Previously, she was an assistant professor in visual studies at the California College of the Arts (CCA), where specialized in the history of photography. She is working in the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at Harvard Art Museums, overseeing the photography collections and acquisitions, and developing exhibitions, public lectures and programming.
The Whitney Museum recently appointed Rujeko Hockley co-curator of the 2019 Whitney Biennial. | Photo by by Jonathan Dorado, Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art
Rujeko Hockley, Assistant Curator | Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, N.Y.
Rujeko Hockley was named assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in January. She officially joined the Whitney in March, after four years at the Brooklyn Museum where she was an assistant curator of contemporary art. This year, Hockley co-curated “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85” at the Brooklyn Museum and “Toyin Ojih Odutola: To Wander Determined,” the artist’s first New York museum show, which is on view at the Whitney through Feb. 25, 2018.
Elvira Dyangani Ose was in conversation with artist Coco Fusco at the Creative Time Summit of Homelands and Revolution in Toronto in September. | Photo by Hendrik Zeitler, Courtesy Creative Time
Elvira Dyangani Ose, Senior Curator | Creative Time, New York, N.Y.
In February, Creative Time tapped London-based Dyangani Ose as senior curator. She officially started in July at the nonprofit arts organization which collaborates with artists on ambitious public art projects. An independent curator and lecturer in visual cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, Ose is maintaining her position with Goldsmiths. She also serves on the Prada Foundation’s Thought Council, and organized the foundation’s recent solo presentations with Betye Saar, Theaster Gates, and Nastio Mosquito in Milan.
Amanda Hunt’s appointment at MOCA Los Angeles marks a return to the city. Prior to her tenure at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Hunt was a curator at LAXART, a non-profit art space in Los Angeles, from 2011-2014. | Photo by Bryan Conley, Courtesy MOCA Los Angeles
Amanda Hunt, Director of Education and Public Programming | MOCA Los Angeles
The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles named Amanda Hunt director of Education and Public Programming in March. She had been serving as associate curator at the Studio Museum on Harlem since 2014. At the Studio Museum, her exhibitions included “A Constellation,” “Lorraine O’Grady: Art Is…,” and “inHarlem: Kevin Beasley, Simone Leigh, Kori Newkirk, Rudy Shepherd,” a series of public art installations presented in four historic Harlem parks. She also co-curated “20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem and Carnegie Museum of Art,” which draws from the collections of both museums and is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh through Dec. 31.
In her new role, Jennifer M. Williams is in charge of all aspects of visitor experience and public programming for Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, which opened in November. | Courtesy Prospect New Orleans
Jennifer M. Williams, Deputy Director for Public Experience | Prospect New Orleans
Prospect 4 is underway in New Orleans the experience of visitors is the responsibility of a recent addition to the team organizing the citywide, international triennial of contemporary art. Jennifer M. Williams joined Prospect New Orleans in March as deputy director for the public experience. Previously, Williams served for nearly seven years as executive director and curator at McKenna Museum of African-American Art in New Orleans.
Before joining Dia, Courtney J. Martin curated an exhibition of the American painter Robert Ryman at Dia:Chelsea in 2015-16. | Shown, Martin stands before a Robert Ryman painting at Dia:Chelsea. Photo Courtesy Dia Art Foundation
Courtney J. Martin, Deputy Director and Chief Curator | DIA Art Foundation, New York, N.Y.
The DIA Art Foundation named Courtney J. Martin deputy director and chief curator in March. In September, she officially joined the foundation which presents exhibitions and installations, as well as performances, lectures, and readings at multiple sites. Martin was an assistant professor of art history and architecture at Brown University when she accepted the DIA appointment. Currently on leave from her faculty position, she edited “Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art,” a major volume documenting a collection of more than 300 works of art by about 100 African and African Diasporan artists.
Prior to joining the Obama museum, Louise Bernard was associated with the New York Public Library, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. | Courtesy Obama Foundation
Louise Bernard, Director | Museum of the Obama Presidential Center, Chicago, Ill.
The Obama Foundation made a major leadership announcement in May, naming Louise Bernard director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center. She will oversee the design, development and operation of the forthcoming museum documenting the Obama administration and its legacy. Located on the South Side of Chicago in Jackson Park, the center is expected to open in 2021. Bernard’s experience spans exhibition design, African American studies, literature and theater. She previously served as director of exhibitions at the New York Public Library.
Naomi Beckwith is co-curator with Valerie Cassel Oliver of the forthcoming exhibition “Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen,” the first major survey of the artist’s work on view at MCA Chicago and CAM Houston. | Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago
Naomi Beckwith, Chair of Curatorial Leadership Summit | Armory Show, New York, N.Y.
In June, Naomi Beckwith was named chair of the Armory Show’s inaugural Curatorial Leadership Summit. The new series of discussions with curators at the New York at fair held in March is envisioned as a “unique opportunity to facilitate dialogue among international thought leaders in the curatorial profession” and further develop the Armory Show’s “role as an incubator for new ideas and practices among the world’s top curators.” Beckwith, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago was also announced as a curatorial advisor for SITElines, the 2018 biennial in Sante Fe, N.M.
Prior to joining the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, Lauren Kelley was founding director of Prairie View A&M University’s art gallery. | Photo by Demetrius Oliver, Courtesy Sugar Hill Children’s Museum
Lauren Kelley, Director and Chief Curator | Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, Harlem, N.Y.
Lauren Kelley was promoted to director and chief curator of the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling in June. She has been on staff at the museum since 2013, when it was still in development. She initially served as associate director of curatorial programs and has organized all of the museum’s exhibitions since it opened to the public in October 2015.
In her new role, Jennifer Ifil-Ryan is responsible for expanding the scope of the education programming and curriculum at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling. | Photo by Demetrius Oliver, Courtesy Sugar Hill Children’s Museum
Jennifer Ifil-Ryan, Deputy Director and Director of Creative Engagement | Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, Harlem, N.Y.
The Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling announced the elevation of another staff member in June. Jennifer Ifil-Ryan is took on a newly created position, serving as deputy director and director of creative engagement. Previously, she was associate director of education and community engagement at the children’s museum, which is sited on the ground floor of a mixed-use building designed by architect David Adjaye.
Julia Crooks has focused her research on historic photography from West Africa and the Diaspora, with a concentration on Sierra Leone. | Photo courtesy the curator via AGO
Julie Crooks, Assistant Curator of Photography | Art Gallery Ontario, Toronto, Canada
At the end of June, Art Gallery Ontario (AGO) made four new curatorial hires, including Julia Crooks as assistant curator of photography. Crooks’s doctoral research at the University of London explored 19th and 20th century vernacular photography in West Africa and the Diaspora. Prior to her AGO appointment, she taught courses on the subject and co-curated “No Justice, No Peace: From Ferguson to Toronto,” a collaboration between the Ryerson Image Center and Black Artist’s Network Dialogue (BAND) presented at Gladstone Hotel, and the “Of Africa” project at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, among other exhibitions.
When VMFA announced Valerie Cassel Oliver’s appointment, the museum emphasized its intention to expand its collection with a commitment to improving representation, adding more works by African American and African-diasporic artists. | Photo by David Stover, © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Valerie Cassel Oliver, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced the appointment of Valerie Cassel Oliver in June and she officially started July 7. She joined the Richmond museum from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston where she served for 16 years, most recently as senior curator. Cassel Oliver is co-curator with Naomi Beckwith of the forthcoming exhibition “Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen,” the first major survey of the artist’s work, presented at MCA Chicago and CAM Houston.
Ashley James is working on “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963–83,” the traveling exhibition set to open at the Brooklyn Museum in September 2018. | Courtesy Brooklyn Museum
Ashley James, Assistant Curator for Contemporary Art | Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.
In June, the Brooklyn Museum hired Ashley James as assistant curator for contemporary art. The museum announced the news in August. Previously, James was a Mellon Research Consortium fellow in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art where she was assisting with the museum’s forthcoming Charles White and Adrian Piper retrospectives.
Months prior to joining its curatorial staff, Erin Christovale was named co-curator of Made in L.A. 2018, the Los Angeles biennial, by the Hammer Museum. | Photo by Paley Fairman, Courtesy Hammer Museum
Erin Christovale, Assistant Curator | Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles announced the appointment of Erin Christovale as assistant curator in June. A Los Angeles-based independent curator and film programmer, she is co-curator of Black Radical Imagination, a series of film shorts, screened at venues including MCA Chicago, ICA Boston, and the Brooklyn Museum, that focuses on “the aesthetics of Afro-futurism, Afro-surrealism, and the magnificent through the context of cinema.” She previously served as curator at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.
Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi is the first black curator hired by the Cleveland institution since it was founded more than a century ago in 1913. | Courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art
Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, Curator of African Art | Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio
Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, who goes by “Smooth,” joined the Cleveland Museum of Art on Aug. 1. The museum holds more than 300 works of traditional art from sub-Saharan Africa in its collection, including a broad selection of masks and figurative sculpture from West and Central Africa. Previously, since 2013, he served as curator of African art at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth University.
Prior to joining Skowhegan, Sarah Workneh was an associate director at Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency in Saugatuck, Mich. | Photo courtesy Skowhegan
Sarah Workneh, Co-Curator | 2018 Portland Museum of Art Biennial, Portland, Maine
In August, the curator for the 2018 Portland Museum of Art Biennial enlisted the expertise of three co-curators. The trio included Sarah Workneh, the co-director of Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture who has helped organize the annual Black Artist Retreat in Chicago since its inception in 2013. The PMA Biennial in Maine will feature 25 artists including David Driskell and Daniel Minter.
Christine Eyene is a research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) where she is working on a project led by 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, a professor of contemporary art at UCLan. | Photo © Antoine Tempé, Picturetank
Christine Eyene, Curator, 2018 Brussels Biennale for Contemporary Photography | Belgium; and Artistic Director, 2018 Casablanca Biennial | Morocco
An art historian, critic and curator, London-based Christine Eyene is overseeing two international biennials in 2018. Scheduled to open in June, Summer of Photography 2018, the Brussels Biennale for Contemporary Photography will revisit 1960s protest movements and consider the “legacy of visual activism in contemporary lens-based practices.” Titled “Tales From Water Margins,” the Casablanca Biennial launches in October and will “reflect on Morocco’s geographic position at the crossroad of the Maghrib, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe” and “examine the country’s historical relationship with the notions of travel and transit.”
Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford is developing a series of films on landscape art for British television. | Photo by Jaimie Gramston, Courtesy National Museum of African Art
Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford, Director | National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.
In September, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art announced its new director is Augustus (Gus) Casely-Hayford. He officially starts in February 2018. A research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London, Casely-Hayford sits on the Board of the Caine Prize for African literature. He has previously served on the board of London’s National Portrait Gallery, where his is currently working on an exhibition for the gallery that will explore the story of the abolition of slavery through 18th- and 19th-century portraits.
Ashley Stull Meyers is the Northwest editor of Art Practical, covering Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon for the online arts publication. | Courtesy Marylhurst University
Ashley Stull Meyers, Director and Curator | Art Gym, Marylhurst University, Marylhurst, Ore.
Ashley Stull Meyers was appointed the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Director and Curator of the Art Gym and Belluschi Pavilion in October. An important cultural venue in Portland, Ore., area, the former gym at Marylhurst University was transformed into a contemporary art space in 1980. A Portland-based writer and curator, Stull Meyers was outreach coordinator for the artist-in-residence program at the c3:initiative, an arts nonprofit. Earlier, she worked in a commercial gallery, held a series of academic residencies, and taught introductory art history as an adjunct lecturer at Wichita State University.
Claire Tancons organizes processional performances that she describes as “participatory experiments and civic interventions.” | Photo by Nicola Bustreo, Courtesy Sharjah Foundation
Claire Tancons, Co-Curator | 2019 Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates
In early November, three co-curators were announced for the 2019 Sharjah Biennial, including New Orleans-based Claire Tancons. The 14th edition of international exhibition opens in March 2019 in the United Arab Emirates. The biennial is organized into three distinct sections, each with a dedicated curator. Tancons is focusing on an exhibition called “Look for Me All Around You” exploring futurity, seeing, unmasking, dispossession and the Diaspora. An independent curator and scholar, she is known for organizing processional performances that explore the “political aesthetics of walking, marching, second lining, masquerading and parading,” which she has presented in public spaces from Miami and New Orleans to Gwangju, Cape Town, Venice, and the Tate Modern in London.
Adrienne Edwards is presiding over the first-ever Frieze New York Artist Award, an international open call for an emerging artist to create a major site-specific work at the May 2018 fair. | Photo by Whitney Browne
Adrienne Edwards, Curator for Artist Award and Live Programs | 2018 Frieze Art Fair, New York, N.Y.
Frieze New York 2018 has tapped scholar, curator and writer Adrienne Edwards to oversee its first-ever Artist Award in New York and Live programming, a slate of performance, installation, and interactive projects. The appointment was announced in November. The art fair is in May on Randall’s Island. Edwards is a curator at Performa, the New York performance biennial where this year’s programming included presentations by Teju Cole, Nicholas Hlobo, Julie Mehretu, Jason Moran, Zanele Muholi, Wangechi Mutu, Jimmy Robert, Tracey Rose, and Kemang Wa Lehulere. She is also curator-at-large at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University is expanding its curatorial team. From left, Amber Esseiva was promoted to assistant curator. Film Curator Enjoli Moon is joining ICA in January. | Photos Courtesy ICA VCU
Amber Esseiva, Assistant Curator and Enjoli Moon, Adjunct Film Curator | Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.
In advance of opening its April 2018 opening, the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), a new, non-collecting art institution in Richmond, Va., made changes to its curatorial team. ICA promoted Amber Esseiva to assistant curator, effectively immediately. A VCU alum, Esseiva had been serving as a curatorial assistant since 2016, helping to organize the institute’s inaugural program. In the mid-December announcement, ICA also named Enjoli Moon adjunct assistant curator of film, a newly created position. Moon is founder and creative director of the Afrikana Independent Film Festival in Richmond. She is joining ICA team in January 2018 and will continue her work on the festival as an independent project. CT
Several curators featured above have edited notable volumes and exhibition catalogs. “Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art” was edited by Courtney J. Martin. Naomi Beckwith co-edited “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now,” the catalog published to coincide with the exhibition. Adrienne Edwards contributed a major essay to “Carrie Mae Weems: Kitchen Table Series.” Augustus Casely-Hayford authored two books, “Lost Kingdoms of Africa” and “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song.” Also, the exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” was co-organized by Rujeko Hockley, who also co-edited the accompanying Sourcebook and forthcoming “New Perspectives” volume.
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