New Museum Leadership Program begins at Fisk University

Museum Leadership Program students with training staff.

This summer Fisk University launched its Museum Leadership Program in collaboration with the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and University) Alliance of Museums and Galleries supported by the generous funding from the Ford Foundation and Walton Family Foundation. The Museum Leadership Program consists of four modules: 1) Conservation, 2) Curatorial, 3) Museum Education (Community Outreach, Programming), and 4) Marketing. The program aims to develop a pipeline of under-represented minority students with extensive knowledge about museum leadership and the opportunity to learn from and work with, well-established leaders in the field.

“Every year when we get new freshmen, I am always surprised at the number who have never been exposed to art museums or aware of career pathways into the field,” says Sheats. “We know that the pipeline is broken, there is data that clearly illustrates it. With the support of the Diversity in Art Museum Leadership Initiative from the Walton and Ford Family foundations, and support and advocacy from our partners and collaborators, our goal is to train, develop, and place our students within the field, in all different facets of the museum. I tell folks all the time, I say it every day, Thank You!”

The first cohort includes ten students from six HBCUs who are diverse in their academic disciplines, areas of interest, professional experiences and leadership skills. The students are Genevieve Antoine, Zakiyya Beasley, Amber Gonzalez, Taryn Nurse, Stephane Ponce, Robert Riojas, ArJae Thompson, Michael Marie Thomas, Dominique Williams, and Jordan Wright. They come from Fisk University, Tuskegee University, Texas Southern University, North Carolina Central University, Winston Salem State, and Spelman College.

Museum Leadership Program students.

During their orientation week at Fisk University, the students worked with museum leaders from throughout the middle Tennessee arts community, including Dr. Susan Edwards, Executive Director of the Frist Art Museum; and Frist curatorial and community engagement department staffers Anne Henderson, Katie Delmez, and Rosemary Brunton. Henry Hicks (Executive Director, National Museum of African American Music) discussed “Having a Museum without a Museum” and Shelly R. Paine, a local conservator, talked about ethics and artist’s intent.

“For museums to thrive and remain relevant, they must invest in the training and mentoring of the next generation of leadership, specifically in candidates who reflect the projected demographics of our country,” said Dr. Susan Edwards. “The Fisk University museum leadership program is preparing a cohort of bright, highly motivated, curious and capable candidates to step into positions of authority and responsibility in art museums. As a collaborator in the Fisk program, the Frist Art Museum is offering hands-on experience in curatorial, education, development, administration, and marketing as part of their training. We are confident that our highly skilled and well-trained staff will provide outstanding learning opportunities. These students represent an important pipeline for future curators, educators, museum administrators, and directors. It is a pleasure and a privilege to see the possibilities this collaboration will yield.”

“We split the students into three groups, with one going to the Winterthur conservation labs, one to the Smithsonian Lunder Conservation Center and one to Fisk where the Aaron Douglas Library was temporarily converted into a conversation lab,” said Fisk Director of Galleries and program leader Jamaal Sheats. “Each site worked on one of the three Tuskegee University dioramas from the 1940 Negro Exposition in Chicago.”

The Fisk Museum Leadership students who spent weeks two and three at Fisk University were able to present their findings at the Inter-Museum Council of Nashville conference which coincided with the final day of the module. Next the students went to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas from August 6 through 10, where they received training in collections management, curatorial and exhibition design. Their final project was to select, research and then discuss works on paper from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection in the Modern Art Galleries at Crystal Bridges. The upcoming Museum Education and Marketing and Development Modules will be rolled out over the course of the 2018-2019 regular academic year.