On the “A” w/Souleo…
It wasn’t until graduate school that Michelle Joan Wilkinson realized that becoming a curator could be a viable profession. Wilkinson is now the director of collections and exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. She now hopes the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s recent announcement of a diversity initiative to provide curatorial training to college undergraduates from underprivileged backgrounds will lead to more possibilities for diversity in museums, especially at the curatorial level.
“It’s not a profession people of color have gravitated towards,” she said. “Much of it depends on how much exposure you have to museums as a young person. Like many youth, I didn’t have exposure to museums to spend free time and aspire to work in. What’s important about this Mellon Foundation program is paid opportunities for young people from all walks of life to have an experience in a museum and to become familiar with the profession as something they can benefit from financially.”
Economic disadvantages are a silent killer to diversity since most museum internships are unpaid, thereby leaving poor youth without the financial incentive and support to work and gain an entry-level opportunity in museums. The two-million-dollar pilot program aims to address this iniquity by providing twenty students with $10,000, each summer for four summers to participate in museum internships. The program debuts next year at the Art Institute of Chicago; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the High Museum in Atlanta.
However, if philanthropic organizations like the Mellon Foundation realize the issue of diversity and are doing something about it, why then aren’t museums being more proactive to increase diversity within their ranks? According to the American Alliance of Museums, 80 percent of the museum workforce is white. Namita Gupta Wiggers, director and chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Craft confers that part of the answer involves changing a system that is forced to operate in the future and not fully in the present.
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