By Maegan Ortiz
Three East Los Angeles College students were accepted to the Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art sponsored by the Mellon Foundation.
Kimberly Miranda, Saúl Quintero and Liliana Sanchez were among 65 students from across southern California competing for 15 slots in the academy.
Sanchez, a 20-year-old art history major from Commerce applied because it fit in with her plans for the future.
“Since I want to go into art history, either as a curator or teaching in a four year university, I figured it would be good to get some experience. I’m really interested in knowing what goes into creating an exhibit. I love museums and I want to see what goes on behind the scenes,” Sanchez said.
Summer academies are one-week immersion programs designed to provide a rich experience in the museum environment and expose participants to career options related to art and art history.
According to LACMA, the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program provides specialized training in the curatorial field for students from diverse backgrounds across the United States.
Kimberly Miranda, also a 20-year-old art history major at ELAC, could not believe the news when she found out she was one of those selected.
“These programs are really important, because it gives people that are not of privileged backgrounds an opportunity to contribute their ideas,” Miranda said.
Sanchez also said she could not believe she got into the program, in part because she was competing with students from four-year-universities.
“It speaks to the quality of ELAC students and the art history (program) here that three students got into the program,” Sanchez said
Each summer academy will include workshops, tours, field trips and networking events with museum professionals. Participants will also work together to curate an exhibit.
The fellowship, announced in February, seeks to impact American art museums by developing curators who are committed to engaging with the full spectrum of museum audiences.
Summer academy applicants submitted a form with general information, transcripts, a resume and essay responses to prompts provided as part of the application process.
Saúl Quintero, a 24-year-old ELAC Chicano Studies major, sees the program as a way to deal with what he sees as a problem of representation.
“ I believe it is necessary to expand the diversity of curatorial ranks in American art museums because historically underrepresented individuals are absent in non-specific ethnic museums. To walk into an academic space and see familiar images regarded as artwork, and to have shows curated by individuals from our communities is a powerful message,” Quintero said.
The program specifically seeks individuals from historically underrepresented groups in the curatorial field who are undergraduates currently enrolled at a university, college or community college.
According to Hillary Walter, Coordinator of Curatorial Fellowships at LACMA, diversity is a popular topic among museum curators nationwide.
“The U.S. population is diverse and museums need to engage that audience when they curate exhibits and remain relevant to the community. Over 80 percent of museum curators self-identify as white and over 60 percent believe that diversity is the most important issue according to a survey conducted by the Association of Art Museum Curators,” Walter said.
“We believe The Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship will have a lasting impact on the next generation of curators,” LACMA CEO Michael Govan said.
For Kimberly Miranda, this impact means expanding the role that women play in museum curation.
“I applied because I knew this opportunity would help me fulfill my dreams of one day becoming an art historian. I also thought it was important because one of my goals is to close the gender gap that top museums have with the misrepresentation of women,” she said.
The summer program has rewards beyond exposing students to hands on experiences in curation in a museum setting. Participants in the summer academy also receive a daily per diem.
“Through the summer academy, I expect to learn how to properly synthesize my thoughts into research that may then, translate into a cohesive art exhibit,” Saul Quintero said.
All of the Elans selected said they were encouraged by their professors to participate.
Art History Professor Surana Singh felt it was important for her students to apply because she knows from personal experience how hard it is to get into the art history and curation field. Singh acknowledges that the challenges are not just academic but structural.
“I was raised by a single-parent and I put myself through school; and, as a South Asian woman, professionally I am a minority in my field. Therefore, I know the economic and academic commitment it takes to pursue a career in art history and that it is not something easily obtained,” Singh said.
Singh said that the history of art has been practiced as an academic discipline where a select few have had the privilege to decide what constitutes art while maintaining a cultural and class-based hierarchy. All participants in the summer program have the chance to be chosen to participate as one of 20 fellows following the completion of the one week intensive.
Fellows selected from the summer academies for the Fellowship program will be paired with a mentor at the host museum with whom they will work with on projects and meet regularly during the academic year and summer.
Partner museums are the Art Institute of Chicago, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, LACMA, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.
All students who participated must be open to the idea of pursuing a master’s or doctorate degree in the arts or museum field.
Quintero says that he is pursuing graduate school even if he does not get chosen as a fellow but if he does he will celebrate the success with his family.
“Programs like this are important because it is a gateway for Chicanos to speak of their experiences, rather than having other individuals represent us. Museums are spaces where individuals go to learn about the culture of an area. We live in Los Angeles, therefore individuals from our communities should be engaged in an ongoing dialogue about art in our city,” Quintero said.
Sanchez said she almost did not apply because the odds seemed stacked against her getting in, but she encouraged others to “just go for it.”
“I am so pleased that East Los Angeles College will be represented by three students at LACMA’s Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy. These students represent the academically driven student body of ELAC, and let’s hope that the two Fellowships get awarded to two of our three representatives,” Singh said.