Spelman Receives $5.4 Million Grant to Bolster Curatorial Studies

The Clark Atlanta University Art Museum is famously home to a series of murals by Hale Woodruff depicting the history of African and African American art.

Spelman College has received a $5.4 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation to create the Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies. Awarded in conjunction with funds to establish scholarships at Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, this grant allows for the development of an Art History major and a Curatorial Studies minor at the Atlanta University Center, a consortium including Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Through a partnership between the Art and Art History department and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, a Curatorial Studies program was established at Spelman in early 2016; its initial cohort included nine students from Spelman and one from Morehouse. With the funds from the recently awarded five-year Walton Family Foundation grant, Spelman will create a distinct Art History major and elevate its Curatorial Studies program into a minor. Students at Spelman, Morehouse, and Clark Atlanta will be able to enroll in related courses beginning in the fall of 2019.

This new consortium-wide collective positions the Atlanta University Center as a leading incubator of African American museum professionals in the U.S. A 2015 survey of American art museums by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation found that only four percent of museum professionals identify as black. The new initiative at the Atlanta University Center aims to significantly increase that number by creating “an educational pipeline into art museum leadership that is more representative of our nation’s increasing diversity.”

Installation view of the 2016 exhibition “Africa Forecast: Fashioning Contemporary Life” at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.

In addition to increasing academic offerings and funding scholarships, the grant will also provide students with opportunities for paid internships at museums and other cultural institutions. The funds will additionally support efforts including a new lecture series and an intensive summer program for high school students interested in art history and curatorial studies. There are also plans to hire distinguished visiting professors and a curator-in-residence for the program. This considerable grant from the Walton Family Foundation to Spelman was announced just weeks after the foundation announced a $2 million gift to support The Momentary, a new contemporary venue connected to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, set to open in 2020.

Spelman College Museum of Fine Art director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee said, ““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.”

The announcement also included celebratory statements from directors at museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and elsewhere. Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, said, “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.”

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s exhibition “Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness” is on view at the Spelman Museum of Fine Art through December 8. Three exhibitions—”Radical Lens,” “The Sweet Spot,” and “Black Interiors”—remain on view at the Clark Atlanta Art Museum through May 31, 2019.

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