Kiara Hill says attending this year's Center for Curatorial Leadership/Mellon Foundation seminar in New York City revealed something very important for her. "The program showed me there is a path," Hill says. "I can stay as curious as I want to be. I knew I wanted to become a curator, but I still love to teach, I still read, and it helped me see how to use all of those skills."
Hill is a doctoral student in Afro-American studies and was one of 16 art history students selected for the sixth annual CCL/Mellon Foundation Seminar in Curatorial Practice.
She says the intensive two-week event allowed her and the other participants to meet museum professionals. It also gave them unique access as well as an in-depth introduction to curatorial practice and to the roles and responsibilities of curators in a variety of institutional settings. For example, Hill says, they went to Sotheby's and saw how that organization not only conducts its auctions, but also the behind-the-scenes work of organizing both the events and the materials.
Hill was chosen to participate in the seminar based on her work on the contributions of women during the Black Arts Movement. Her colleagues study a wide range of subjects ranging from 9th-12th-century rock-carved Buddhist imagery in Korea, the Puerto Rican avant-garde from the 1960s to 70s, Trecento representations of dreaming, modern and contemporary Moroccan Art, and reliquaries at the Court of Charles V. Seminar organizers say collectively they exemplify approaches to art historical scholarship that endeavor to breakdown institutional silos and to expand the audience for and impact of their respective disciplines.
If the students were a diverse group, they also got to meet and work with a varied collection of professionals in the industry. During the two-week intensive training in July, the CCL/Mellon seminar provided the cohort with unique access as well as an in-depth introduction to curatorial practice and to the roles and responsibilities of curators in a variety of institutional settings. Based on these experiences, the students will be able to expand upon their scholarship thanks to participating in meetings with trustees, conservators, critics, museum directors and funders to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing museums today.
Hill says, "We got to meet a wide range of people and I was able to get a sense of the direction the field is going." She says it's obvious there is a strong push to diversify the professional ranks of museum curators. That reflects both the increasing social diversity in our society and the need for museums and institutions to stay relevant.
Right now, Hill says, about 4 percent of professionals in the field are African American, but that is changing because the institutions are more open to new ideas. She says the public they serve also wants a new variety of experiences and subjects to study.
For the changes to happen, Hill says, more people like her have to understand what it takes to be a curator, and more importantly, have the opportunity to practice those skills. "This program really is about access," she says.