AAHC Forum: The Development of MoCADA’s Curatorial Fellowship

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Isissa Komada-John
Exhibitions Director, MoCADA

In less than two years, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts’ (MoCADA) Curatorial Fellowship has become a central and celebrated facet of the organization. In the winter of 2010, MoCADA welcomed three curatorial fellows for the inaugural year of the IMLS-funded program. Now in its second year, the Curatorial Fellowship program is winding down, with the completion of cycle two approaching in February 2013. Thus far, the Curatorial Fellowship has brought fresh ideas, increased our capacity, and ushered in a spirit of continued learning to the institution.

We created the Curatorial Fellowship as a direct response to the overwhelming need for professional training for the next generation of curators. Opportunities are rare for emerging scholars who are interested in African American or African Diasporan visual practices. We set out to benefit the fellows and the institutions and communities that they would go on to serve as professionals. But what we have learned is that the Curatorial Fellowship is a tremendous benefit to our museum itself.

We have a small team, so the addition of two full-time fellows in the Exhibitions Department has doubled the number of curatorial projects that the museum is able to organize. Additionally, working with the fellows has created a space for dialogue and discussion in the office, which leads to even better ideas and varied perspectives. This has had such a positive impact that it has transformed our curatorial model, as we are now inviting more emerging guest curators than ever to activate our gallery.

Like any new endeavor, the Curatorial Fellowship has posed challenges. In the first cycle of the program, it was difficult to find the right balance between offering guidance and allowing creative freedom. This has a lot to do with the specific needs of the individuals who were selected. For the second cycle, we learned that specific assignments designed to support the fellows through processing and building on their ideas were a great way to strike a good balance.

As a supervisor, it is exciting to see our fellows, who just months ago were new to the team and to the professional world, leading tours of their exhibition, pitching ideas interdepartmentally, and publishing curatorial essays. A highlight of the experience was our team trip to Minneapolis in April 2012. Seeing our fellows meet with colleagues at the IMLS convening and participate in sessions at the AAM Annual Meeting was truly a sign of success.

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