Spelman College has received a $5.4 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation to establish a new “Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies.” The new initiative, in conjunction with Walton Family Foundation grants to fund scholarships at Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, will result in the creation of an art history major and curatorial studies minor at the Atlanta University Center.
With the five-year Walton Family Foundation grant, Spelman will create an art history major and elevate its curatorial studies program to a minor that will begin enrolling students from Spelman, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University in fall 2019. The goal of the package of grants is to foster innovation and create an educational pipeline into art museum leadership that is more representative of our nation’s increasing diversity, a statement from the college read. The initiative will also position the Atlanta University Center as a leading incubator of African-American museum professionals in the United States.
“The Atlanta University Center has a rich history of excellence in the arts. Atlanta University was the home to the first art department at a historically Black college and university and its Art Annuals event was one of the most prestigious exhibitions for black artists. The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and Clark Atlanta University Art Museum are national treasures,” said Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D. “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.”
The initiative began this fall with planning for enhanced coursework in Art History and Curatorial Studies, guest lectures and other efforts to raise awareness of the new course offerings and attract current and prospective students to the new program.
Over the course of the Walton Family Foundation grant, the funding will support:
- Scholarships for AUC students 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.
- Opportunities for hands-on experiences through paid internships at major museums, archives and other cultural institutions across the country.
- Hiring a distinguished visiting professor/director, a visiting associate professor of art history and curator-in-residence.
- A 2019 lecture series, featuring at least three guest lecturers who will deliver public lectures in the field of art history and museum professions on all three campuses.
- An intensive summer program for high school students, starting in 2019, to cultivate a pipeline of talented, diverse students interested in pursuing museum careers.
- Bringing in guest faculty members in art history for each academic year.
A 2015 demographic survey of U.S. art museums by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that only 16 percent of museum leadership positions are held by minorities, even though 38 percent of Americans identify as Asian, Black, Hispanic or multiracial. Among art museum curators, conservators, educators and leaders, only four percent are African American and three percent are Hispanic, the study reported.
“When we increase access to art, we plant the seeds of inspiration for the future,” said Alice Walton, a board member of the Walton Family Foundation. “This grant to Spelman College and the Atlanta University Center will encourage and support greater diversity within the Arts, expand inclusion efforts in the museum community and inspire the next generation of art and museum leadership. I am thrilled to support this collaboration with these historic institutions and look forward to celebrating their success.”
Leaders in the fields of art, museum curation, higher education and philanthropy shared their thoughts on the transformative initiative:
Ronald Johnson, Ph.D., President, Clark Atlanta University
“We greatly appreciate the Walton Family Foundation for their generous support of the AUC Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies,” said Dr. Ronald A. Johnson, President of Clark Atlanta University. “This grant not only reflects the growing global interest in Art History and Curatorial studies but also recognizes the importance of our collection of mid-century African American Art at CAU.”
David A. Thomas, Ph.D., President, Morehouse College
“I would like to thank the Walton Family Foundation for its commitment to increasing diversity in the arts. This gift will enable men of Morehouse and their peers at the Atlanta University Center to increase their studies in the arts, graduate with degrees in art history, and be competitive for top graduate programs in art and curatorial studies.”
Ayoka Chenzira, Ph.D., Chair, Division for the Arts, Spelman College
“Fundamentally, the new AUC Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies is about creating new opportunities to grow diversity and inclusion in the arts and museum fields. Introducing new perspectives and inspiring a new generation of museum leaders are extremely important goals and are destined to be game changers.
Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., C’93, Director, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art
“For many decades Spelman alumnae have thrived as curators, museum educators, administrators, and directors. The Walton Family Foundation grant is transformative and coupled with our collaborations with current and future partners, aids us in extending experiential learning opportunities and supports our commitment to leading the critical charge to create pathways for the next generation of museum professionals.”
Cheryl Finley, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Spelman College
“The visionary generosity of the WFF grant in establishing the AUC Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies uniquely addresses the historic and longstanding barriers to leadership roles for people of color in the oft cloistered art world. The AUC Collective will create a nexus of activity where scholars and the brightest students can leverage state-of-the-art resources, innovative pedagogies, internships, mentoring and networks to train the next generation of black women art historians, curators and museum professionals sorely needed to diversify mainstream institutions and the art world.”
Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director, Brooklyn Museum
“American museums must reflect the vibrancy of our diverse cultures; mentoring students of color through internships is a critical way for them to gain necessary experience and build networks to gain entry into the field. In turn, as we have learned from our partnership with the Spelman College Curatorial Studies program, these students give back a great deal in broadening the lens from which we think about our work. And we are excited to do more together as Spelman launches the Atlanta University Center Collaborative for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies.”
Thelma Golden, Ph.D., Director and Chief Curator, The Studio Museum in Harlem
“With the creation of the Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies, the Walton Family Foundation, Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, Clark Atlanta University, and their collaborators are providing real and meaningful educational pipelines for young people of color to launch their careers in art museums around the country. Equity and representation have been profound and persistent issues in the art world for decades, and many people of color in the art museum field, myself included, can trace much of our success to mentorship and professional development opportunities provided early in our careers. I am confident that the Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies will likewise support many of the field’s future leaders.”
Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation
“Museums need leaders who can bring varied perspectives and life experiences to ensure their exhibits and programs are inclusive and relevant for the diverse communities they serve,” said Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation. “This initiative will help address the lack of diversity in the art and curatorial fields not only in the Atlanta area but across the nation.”
Lowery Stokes Sims, Ph.D., Senior Advisor, Spelman College
“This catalytic collaboration between the Walton Family Foundation and the Atlanta University Center reflects a new day in the recognition of the art of the African diaspora and its long-time proponents, custodians and audiences. The building of a curatorial studies minor and the accompanying ramp-up of the Art History major allows for a renewed appreciation of the prophetic and committed collecting and exhibiting within the AUC since the 1940s. The program of study will enrich existing professional opportunities that have been offered to students to take advantage of the historic collections and exhibitions of the AUC and will empower them to go forth into the global art world as a professional cadre of museum and gallery professionals. I am honored to be part of the team that is involved in building this program.”
Adam Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director, Whitney Museum of American Art
“Internships are essential avenues for university students to discover and develop careers in museums. As many, if not most internships are unpaid, this is a barrier for young people—disproportionately affecting students of color—who might not be able to afford to volunteer their services and have opportunities to learn through hands-on mentorships. The Walton Foundation support to Spelman College to establish these internships, as part of the Atlanta University Center Collaborative for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies, will benefit not just the students who participate but American culture writ large that consequently will be enriched by their ideas, insights, and diversity of views. These opportunities, combined with college scholarships in art history, professorial support, a visiting lectureship, and a summer program for high school students, all made possible through the Foundation, will revolutionize the museum field.”