Academic Interns

  • Mary Lou William’s AFM Local 471 membership card. These membership cards are some of the Local’s only surviving artifacts.
     

    Organizing the Difficult History of the American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471

    Char Pyle, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections – Fall 2021  

    This past semester, I worked under Coordinator of Archives and Manuscripts David Grinnell to reprocess the American Federation of Musicians Local 60-471 records collection, as well as help digitize transcriptions of the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh Oral History Project interviews. The union has played an important role in the history of music in Pittsburgh, and I’m grateful that I was able to help make that history more easily accessed—especially important due to the themes of repression of information and accessibility within the union’s history, particularly surrounding the 1966 merging of the black and white locals (471 and 60, respectively).  

    The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is a labor union representing musicians across the country. The Pittsburgh Musicians’ Union, Local 60-471 of the AFM, has a particularly storied history. Local 60 was formed in 1897, one year after the AFM was founded; in 1908, Local 471 was created for black musicians in Pittsburgh. The two locals merged in 1966 following an integration order from the AFM. While integration seemed like a positive step toward equality, it ultimately made it more difficult for black musicians to advocate for themselves and be heard. This interaction is noted at the beginning of one of the meetings between both locals while discussing the merger:    

    Before considering items, Pres. Davis asks: ‘How can we meet on common ground? What do we need? (to effect agreeable merger)’ Pres. Westray answers: ‘It revolves around representation.’ 

    This emphasis on representation is visible in Local 471’s proposals during the merger. They sought out guaranteed representation in elected office, as they knew they were unlikely to be perceived as equals by the majority-white membership base of the merged union. Since the merger, and still today, leadership of Local 60-471 is primarily white. Based on these minutes, it appears these suggestions were heavily contested and subsequently dismissed by members of Local 60. One of their arguments was that this was “a type of segregation in reverse.” 

    Sadly, records from Local 471 are sparse. There is significantly more material available for Local 60, including film reels, publications, meeting minutes, photographs, and various booklets. The merged local may have been viewed as simply a continuation of the white local, and artifacts related to Local 471 might simply have been devalued and destroyed. The effects of this lack of preservation were apparent almost immediately, as membership cards for many Local 471 members were lost in the merger. This led to a discontinuation of seniority benefits (even though the opposite was promised in the merger agreement), which caused many to cancel their memberships. Thankfully, there have been efforts to recover the history of Local 471 through the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh Oral History Project, which includes interviews of former members giving their accounts of the union and the years surrounding it.  

    When so many former Local 471 members resigned, they lost the ability to play music in Pittsburgh without paying a fine, and the city missed out on countless performances and talented artists. This event greatly shaped the landscape of Pittsburgh music as a whole.  

    Going into this internship, I was mainly focused on learning the technical aspects of working in archives. I didn’t expect to become so invested in this story, but I’m grateful that I got to be a part of making it heard. This work has taught me about the importance of proper processing in order to make a collection available to researchers.  

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Early Conservation and It’s Lasting Effects

    Yara Makasakit, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections – Fall 2021 

    Though environmental conservation may seem like just another passing trend, the idea of protecting wildlife has been around for thousands of years. Many Indigenous cultures have held the natural world up with great respect and continue to advocate for its protection, like the Tlingit Tribe of Alaska. These groups paved the way for government bodies and everyday people to do the same. One man who devoted the entirety of his career to this effort was Jacob Bates Abbott. Abbott was an American artist, born in 1895, whose work focused on US wildlife and created art for publications such as magazines and books.    

    My internship at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections, supervised by the Coordinator of Archives and Manuscripts David Grinnell, was dedicated to the digitization of the Jacob Bates Abbott Collection. Before starting my work in the ASC, I did a bit of research and the information I found about Abbott was very minimal. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the work I was going to be doing. What I came to find out was that this lack of material downplays the significance of Abbott’s work. 

    Abbott had a longstanding relationship with the Pennsylvania Game News Magazine. This was a hunting publication with a heavy focus on conservation and safe hunting practices. He created the covers for the magazine’s monthly publications for about ten years and authored a few articles. Though Abbott’s paintings were not hyper-realistic, the observations he was constantly conducting shows in the detail of his work: the physical anatomy of the creatures, color patterns of the different animal’s fur and feathers, reflections in the water, and the surrounding greenery. He was able to accomplish this by carrying out his own research and studies of the natural world. Abbott’s field notes are filled with his sketches and notes of what he had seen in places such as Pennsylvania, California, New Hampshire, and more. Abbott was dedicated to observing the world as it was. It is incredibly apparent that Abbott cared a great deal for the work he was doing and found it to be important enough to commit most of his life and career to. 

    Although there are only limited outside sources about Abbott himself, the entirety of his artistic career is now documented in his papers at the University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives & Special Collections, a collection which includes most of his original work. Through this experience I was able to see what truly goes into archival work and its significance. This collection is so important because it shows the ongoing history of the fight for conservation, particularly on the side of conservation awareness. Abbott was able to bring the United States wilderness to people’s homes, offices, and schools. This allowed the country, particularly Pennsylvania, to see the beauty of nature and to garner support for its care. The natural world continues to need people to defend, protect, and speak up for it.  

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • University Art Gallery Entrance, Women of Visions: Celebrating 40 Years Exhibit. Taken by Jamie Roncinske, December 1, 2021. 

     

    A Semester at the University Art Gallery

    Jamie Roncinske, Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery – Fall 2021 

    Museum experiences are different for everyone. That is part of what makes a museum such an important venue of culture: where you experience art and learn about others, as well as yourself. I had the opportunity to experience a museum in an entirely new way through my work as a Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery in the Fall of 2021.  

    My work at the University Art Gallery at the University of Pittsburgh opened the doors for me to learn about and participate in the vital work that goes into creating a valuable experience for museum visitors, focusing on the main exhibit of the semester; Women of Visions: Celebrating 40 Years. It also gave me the opportunity to experience many types of museum work that make a great exhibit possible. Under the guidance of Isaiah Bertagnolli, Graduate Assistant at the University Art Gallery, I aided in prepping gallery spaces for exhibits, sorting digital archives, welcoming and facilitating visitor experiences, as well as creating my own project in educational programming to foster meaningful interaction with the Women of Visions exhibit for students and visitors of all ages. My work at the University Art Gallery gave me a well-rounded experience of all the components that go on behind the scenes in creating and running an exhibit from beginning to end. I assisted in the preliminary work of painting walls and allocating gallery space for different works and was given a space in conversations with professionals about how these factors have power to change the tone and meaning of an exhibit.  

    As the exhibit opened and I moved into work as a gallery attendant, I was able to practice valuable advice given by Sylvia Rhor, University Art Gallery Director and Curator, about creating a welcoming and positive environment through interaction with museum visitors. Alongside my work in the gallery, I created three lesson plans for engagement with the Women of Visions exhibit to foster guided interaction with the exhibit as a whole as well as specific works. These lesson plans, based on educational programming research in museums, provide the framework for visitors of all ages to have guided engagement with the exhibit and gain experience deeply interacting with art in general, as well as highlighting the important and unique contributions of the artists’ collective, Women of Visions. My experience and interactions with museum spaces will forever be enriched by the knowledge I gained as an intern at the University Art Gallery, and I hope my work there has done the same for others. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A look at the 8th edition of the Carnegie International, in 1904, and the most recent show, in 2018, shows some of the more easily visible changes the exhibit has undergone over its 125-year history.
     

    The Evolving Technology of Internationalism

    Bella Hanley, Museum Studies Intern for the 58th Carnegie International – Fall 2021 

    Now in the planning stages of its 58th iteration, the Carnegie International was founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1896, shortly after its parent institution, the Carnegie Museum of Art, making it the oldest exhibition of international contemporary art in North America. Though the show has aimed to display art from around the world (with the exceptions of three exhibits in the 40s centered on American painting), earlier curators and directors were limited in their interaction with artists outside of North America and Europe, both as a result of cultural norms and expectations of their times and technological and developmental constraints. In the past twenty years, the International has more truly embraced its name, enabled by an increasingly globalized world, inside and outside of art, to include in greater numbers artists from across Asia, South America, and Africa, along with those from historically marginalized backgrounds in the United States and abroad.  

    As a curatorial intern working alongside the team developing the upcoming show, which will open in September 2022, I have seen firsthand how the show relates to the concept of “international”, especially in times that make it both technologically easier and, with pandemic-related travel restrictions, more difficult. One of my tasks to assist the curatorial team, comprised of curator Sohrab Mohebbi, associate curator Ryan Inouye, and my advisor, curatorial assistant Talia Heiman, consisted of compiling information on artists from across five continents to share with the show’s curatorial council. The council members hail from Eastern Asia, Central America, East Africa, and North America, providing what Mohebbi describes as a “polyphony” of outlooks to ensure the show’s internationalism is genuine and respectful. Modern technology and the adaptations made in the past two years to make meeting with people you cannot physically be with have allowed for constant communication with this international team.  

    For other projects, such as compiling artists’ countries of origin in order to apply for relevant grants, or organizing projects suggested by international advisors to represent the artwork of specific regions, online file-sharing served as a major resource for the curatorial team. Unlike the early organizers of the International, I am able to access high-quality images of artworks through shared drives and servers, find artist information, bios, and CVs on their websites, and read proposals from curators thousands of miles away by opening my email. The ambitious scale of the Carnegie International (both in a geographic sense and in terms of the size of the exhibition) would surely be impossible without such digital tools. As an aspiring curator, having access to such a wealth of information and materials to work with has been a rich experience. As a student of art and history, seeing the International evolve as the world and the technology available to us inspires faith in a more globally inclusive and connected museum culture in the decades ahead. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    The Repatriation of Caddo Nation Pottery in the UAG

    Repatriating the objects of various Native American tribes across the United States has been an ongoing process for many museums, including the University Art Gallery (UAG) in Pittsburgh. These objects came in UAG possessions in 1938 from one of the professors from the University of Pittsburgh, Carl Engelder, who did an excavation of a Caddo tomb in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which he later donated these objects to university around 1998.  

    With this post, I hope to bring to light not only the necessity of repatriation, but also the struggles both the tribes and the museums are facing. The process of giving back these objects takes a lot of time and effort in order to find proper space and transportation. The Caddo Nation consist of various tribes who live around the Red River in southwest Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas from as early as 2500 years ago. Due to the impact of colonial forces, the Caddo were forcibly removed to Oklahoma in 1859. Prior to the colonialism of the Europeans, they were known for their large trade network of agriculture, meat, and specifically their beautiful ceramics and pottery. This pottery while traded was also a significant grave good marking the elites and the heritage of that person[1]

    In an interview by Bobby Gonzalez and Robert Cast, one of the Caddo elders talks about the repatriation of these grave elements and says that, “They do not want to ever rebury or improperly handle some other tribal Nation’s human remains or items that were not Caddo,” because something bad could happen to the person doing the ceremony and the people involved with the ceremony.[2] This in turn speaks to how no one should be directly reburying the grave goods that are not Caddo, and also has to be sure of its Caddo heritage. Their burial is not about what the archaeological record says, but is about the beliefs and knowledge that the Caddo themselves know about how their ceremonies are conducted.[3] 

    According to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), federal law demands, “...for the repatriation and disposition of certain Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.” In order to do this museums must consult the Native tribes for protection and exportation of the objects, and other compliance laws, review committees, enforcements policies, and grants to help the process.[4] Although the UAG remains committed to these goals, the methods of repatriation can sometimes be lengthy and challenging. The UAG has now twice reached out to the Caddo Nation to return their property. In 2008, they were able to find a intermediate to help them reach out to the Caddo, however there was no emailed answer and no follow-up from the museum until 2015. In 2015, there were more conversations between the museum coordinator and one of the Caddo representatives, but due to strife within the tribe the repatriation of these objects could not be done.  

    While action should be taken soon in order to check on the state of the Caddo and the repatriation of the pottery the UAG has, there are many factors in place that make this difficult. The importance of these objects remains, and therefore the protection of this pottery comes first as they eventually find their way back to the Caddo.  

    [1] Read further about the Caddo Nation heritage in: Girard, Jeffrey S. (2018) The Caddos and Their Ancestors: Archaeology and the Native People of Northwest Louisiana. and Perttula, Timothy K., and Chester P. Walker. (2012) The Archaeology of the Caddo. 

    [2] Gonzalez, Bobby, Robert Cast, Timothy K. Perttula, and Bo Nelson. 2005: 7 

    [3] Gonzalez, Bobby, Robert Cast, Timothy K. Perttula, and Bo Nelson 2005: 57 

    [4] Read further information on repatriation laws here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nagpra/index.htm 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Abreihona Lenihan working with artist Humaria Abid

     

    Curatorial Practice in a Non-Profit Arts Organization

    Abreihona Lenihan, Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Spring 2021

    I was ecstatic to learn about the curatorial internship at Contemporary Craft (CC) as I have been eager to both learn and gain more insight into the role of a curator. Shadowing Kate Lydon, Director of Exhibitions, I helped engage the public in the creative experience through craft-based artistic practices. Although I worked remotely for the majority of the internship, I contributed to multiple projects. For WOV ART: Celebrating 40 Creative Years at Contemporary Craft’s Satellite Gallery at BNY Mellon (March 12-July 25, 2021), I took on curatorial, installation, and marketing responsibilities, while for the Searching for Home by Humaria Abid (April 9-August 21, 2021) my focus was on public programs, partnerships, and registration. I also contributed to the development of the Food Justice: Growing a Healthier Community through Art exhibit (September 11, 2021 - March 20, 2022), participating in preliminary program meetings for this upcoming initiative.

    Far from a traditional museum, this nonprofit art organization is one of the few visual arts organizations in the US dedicated exclusively to contemporary craft, consistently presenting works by nationally and internationally respected artists. The five-month internship at Contemporary Craft provided an in-depth introduction to what curatorial practice entails, including public program development, archival research, and gallery installation. In the remote context, I contributed to project meetings on Zoom, created exhibition checklists, and assisted with exhibition loan agreements. I quickly learned that this kind of position requires someone who is dedicated, hardworking, and passionate about art history.

    While the sheer range of tasks involved in curatorial practice was intimidating at first, my work at Contemporary Craft allowed me to enjoy the varied nature of the work, ranging from collaborative contexts to individual research. I am very grateful to my advisor, Ms. Lydon for her time and continued support. In addition to this, I am grateful to have made important connections with community colleagues such as Sam Black (Director African American Program, Senator John Heinz History Center), Christine Bethea (President of Women of Visions), and Charlotte Ka (owner of MOKA Gallery in the Historic Hill District). As this semester comes to an end, I am thankful to have these experiences to guide me for future curatorial endeavors.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Birdseye View Of Pittsburgh (1947) by Adolf Arthur Dehn

     

    The Digital World Of Museums

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2021

    I interned at the University of Pittsburgh’s Art Gallery (UAG) under the guidance of Dr. Sylvia Rhor Samaniego, the Director and Curator of the UAG. Currently, the University Art Gallery is working on multiple different aspects to improve and rework, such as redesigning the website. To assist with this, I have been helping to create “pods”, or different academic themes that will be featured on the newly developed website. Each pod will highlight a group of artworks from the UAG collection. This will provide academic categories for the viewers of the website to be able to more easily navigate the collection online and find artwork. Some of the pods I have helped with creating dealt with women, and the landscapes of both rural and urban Pittsburgh. With my fellow interns at the UAG, I was able to help give feedback and some of my own thoughts on the pods they also were working on. 

    I found the landscape to be particularly interesting to research and write about. For this topic, I selected 6 artworks depicting both rural and urban landscapes of Pittsburgh and the surrounding region. The Pittsburgh landscape was particularly interesting to research and work on because each of the different locations offers a unique view into the history and evolution of the city and region of Western Pennsylvania. In each of the different locations, there are different and interesting stories told. This work allowed me to bring my own interest in history and apply it to my internship. 

    Another important part of my involvement with the University Art Gallery has been looking at how to expand accessibility and the use of social media platforms. The UAG has been looking at ways to make its physical space and the new website more accessible for all its visitors. I personally have found it very interesting to look at the aspects of accessibility and inclusivity. I have learned a lot of new aspects of creating information on posts for social media. I have learned how to add accessibility using language for alt text and descriptions of works of visual art. Also, we had discussed and made decisions on many different aspects of how to use social media as a tool for museum outreach. We have discussed the museum's responses on social media and facing the public about different social and political events happening in the United States. This internship has shown me how to view museums in a wider context of the cultural sector and allowed me to consider how museums have an impact on the world around them.

    I have been able to see firsthand the decisions that the UAG makes and the ways in which the museum sector operates and works. A large part of my internship has been about connecting the collection and the UAG with social media and the students at Pitt. I have had a lot of amazing experiences and am very thankful for those I have had during my internship. I have learned so much and had new exciting experiences. I have been able to tailor my internship towards encompassing my own interests, such as with the academic pods I worked on for the website. I am really excited to see how the University Art Gallery will continue to expand and redevelop its website, and its social media presence.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Black and white photograph of a young girl beginning to climb up a set of stairs with dramatic lighting

    Stair Climber, Los Angeles, California (1970) by Daniel D. Teoli, Jr. (UAG Collection)

     

    Engaging in Critique and Conversation with the UAG Collection

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery (UAG) – Spring 2021

    “Don’t be afraid to be critical of our collection. What perspectives are we missing? What questions need to be raised?” This bold approach was beyond what I initially predicted I would be doing as an intern at the University Art Gallery – but I am so grateful for the conversations and insight it generated. My work consisted mainly of researching artworks, building understanding of historical context, analyzing artistic choices, and encapsulating all of it into easily digestible yet thought-provoking blurbs. With the guidance of Dr. Sylvia Rhor Samaniego, Director and Curator of the UAG, I approached this task within the unique framework posed above. I was also given the freedom to consider, what am I most interested in learning and writing about? What conversations do I think we should be having, based on the artworks in the collection? In what ways can the UAG respond to the current moment, navigating limitations imposed by a public health crisis and playing a part in nationwide social justice movements?

    At the start of the semester, my assignment was to research and brainstorm ideas about how we could introduce more aspects of the collection through social media, given that physical interaction with the UAG’s exhibition space was not possible. This soon transitioned into creating content that could work for both social media and the website. The goal was to create new ways for visitors to virtually navigate the works in the collection, namely through themed series of about six works each that would shed light on underappreciated facets of the collection. I spent some time with my fellow interns examining how other university art museums organized their collections online, browsing our collection, and brainstorming potential themes. I eventually developed four series, exploring the visual representation of historic Pittsburgh through the Gimbel Collection, the objectification of women in art, the relationship between women and emotion, and international postwar abstraction in the Lowenthal Collection. The two series about women were particularly striking for me to work on; I was able to directly bring my own perspectives and questions I wanted to ask to the table. It was so powerful to be given the chance to provoke these important conversations through my writing.

    In addition to doing background research and writing captions for each artwork, I spent some time learning about accessibility strategies and applying them to my work, mainly through writing alt text and image descriptions. We also had an engaging discussion during one intern meeting about ways in which the UAG, along with other museums and galleries, can improve accessibility in web design, social media, and public programming. As the semester continued, and I slowly put all the components of each series together, I was very grateful to have assistance from Brooke Wyatt, a graduate student in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. Working with her, as well as with the other interns, reminded me of the value of external perspectives for collaboration and revision.

    Overall, this internship felt to me like ascending a second set of stairs into the realm of art museums and art history. The first was a course I took in the fall, during which I helped develop an exhibition for the UAG. Prior to that, my knowledge came only from occasional visits to art museums whenever I visited a new city. But it has been so much fun discovering this new world. That is why I chose the image above. To me, this photograph from our collection (and included in one of the series I developed) symbolizes the beginning of a journey. It depicts the joy and drama of a new venture, the beauty of open-endedness – feelings I know very well from my exploration of the museum world thus far. Continuing forward, I am excited to keep exploring, whether professionally within this realm, or outside using the research and writing skills I have honed during this time. Either way, this internship has been a wonderful and educational experience.

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    Discovering the Greer Lankton Archive

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2021

    I was not sure what to expect when I began my internship at the Mattress Factory in the Greer Lankton Digitization Project in February of 2021. Beginning an internship remotely was daunting but has in turn aided me in developing a uniquely personal relationship not only to the work but to the artist. Greer Lankton (1958- 1996) was an ethereal artist and person, popularly known for her dolls whose individual personalities were extensions of Lankton’s exploration into her own personhood and identity.

    My internship at the archives granted me in-depth access to the Greer Lankton collection. During the semester I worked primarily with the digitized photographs using Adobe Bridge software to log metadata information into the museum database, creating posts for the Mattress Factory’s social media, as well as researching religious iconography in the collection which I will be continuing in a summer fellowship. The photographs I worked with not only documented Lankton’s life through photos of her and her community, but provided a fascinating look into her creative process. In a folder of contact sheets such as the image above, a selection of photographs had borders drawn on by Lankton, displaying this process of selection as part of the act of creation. Working with the materials in this degree, I essentially was given the privilege of watching Lankton work, observing the artistic decision-making that was behind some of her most well-known pieces. Although she has passed, her selectivity and artistic process is embedded in the archive, and hopefully when the entire collection is digitized and accessible, viewers will too have that understanding of Lankton’s creative authorship.

    It is a peculiar situation to be essentially rifling through someone’s life by working in the archives, and it has been an absolute honor to find in Lankton not only an inspiring artist, but a confidant and a friend. Lankton has been a constant in my life since February and despite never having met her, she has led me to discovering new ways to look at my own self and the world around me. Lankton continues to be a guiding light in my work and my life, and I am ecstatic to be able to continue these discoveries in a summer fellowship.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
  • University of Pittsburgh's Varsity Walk

    University of Pittsburgh's Varsity Walk is where the upcoming outdoor exhibition, "Black Lives in Focus", will be held.

     

    A Commitment to Honoring and Celebrating Black Life

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2021

    Last summer, we all had a lot of time to watch Black Lives Matter protests and the various positive and negative responses to them. I believe we all should look within ourselves and question what the BLM movement means to us, and how we can move forward towards gaining true equality in this country. With all of these feelings of anger and helplessness swirling inside during quarantine as I watched the events unfold from home, I was elated when I was offered a position to intern under Dr. Sylvia Rhor in the University Art Gallery to work on the upcoming exhibition, Black Lives in Focus.

    Originally, the show was intended to be a vigil to honor the Black lives lost to police brutality. The idea was proposed by the University under the direction of our Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement, Dr. Kathy Humphrey, inspired by Lest We Forget (an outdoor exhibition which honored Holocaust survivors). Dr. Humphrey formed a large planning committee comprised of Pitt staff, faculty, and community members to shape the project, and named Dr. Bria Walker, Assistant Professor of Theatre Pedagogy, and Dr. Sylvia Rhor as lead co-organizers for the project. After many planning meetings, the project transformed from a single vigil to a large-scale initiative which includes the outdoor exhibition, multi-media visual artworks, text pieces, a performance, and opening ceremony to be held at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Together, all of these components are meant to honor the BLM movement and urge us to consider how systemic racism within our country affects our daily lives. In addition, this initiative was meant to highlight Pitt’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and to address the needs of the University’s Black students, staff and community – who have often felt unseen or unheard on campus. The idea for the exhibition developed even further once the Visual Arts Selection Committee began meeting and discussing the broader implications of just one show attempting to embody the totality of the Black experience within our personal, and national communities.

    To date, my work has focused on the foundational aspects of the Visual Arts Selection Committee, of which I am a member. The Committee, made up of eight Black Pitt faculty, student, and two community members (curators), had the honor of deciding which works will be shown as part of the visual arts section of the exhibition. The committee carefully reviewed the many submissions received from an open call to artists and community. In the beginning of my internship, my work consisted of making word documents containing the submissions of each artist (with the help of Mari Carmen Barrios), making a Power Point presentation with the submissions and tombstone information of each submission, listing my favorite and least favorite submissions for the exhibition, and providing a rationale for my selection based on the submission call criteria. I have worked closely with my fellow Committee members to select which works we feel truly represent the essence of Black life in America today. Over the course of our selection, we realized the original intent of only having just one show no longer fit our vision, and the stress of just honoring lives lost seemed inadequate and a one-sided view of Black life. We wished to honor the Black experience, and to do that we need not only to focus on issues surrounding the BLM movement, but the bigger picture of systemic racism as well as the positives to Black life, which certainly cannot be completed in just one exhibition. For this exhibition, we selected 20 works that highlight a range of Black experiences that will be reproduced on the lawn of the Cathedral in September 2021. We also proposed that this exhibition be seen as the first of other exhibitions – both indoor and outdoor – that explore Black life.

    Overall, I am grateful to be a part of a majority Black Committee for this exhibition. Throughout my entire career as a student at Pitt, I have had only two Black professors (both male), which is frustrating to me because Pitt has emphatically preached diversity and inclusion without significant follow through time and time again. This Committee feels like a breath of fresh air because there is a mix of queer and straight Black women, men, and non-binary folks of different ages working together which brings a more holistic view of the Black experience for the exhibition. There are many facets to Black life within America today, and with the diversity of our Committee and the magnificent submissions of the artists in the show, we have the great opportunity of beginning an open and honest dialogue within our community. As a result of our Committee’s meetings, Pitt and the UAG are broadening our discussion of Black life in our personal and national communities to a series of Black Lives in Focus exhibitions, and to other areas on campus, most notably with incorporation into the University’s curriculum.

    I could not be prouder of the work we have all done and how far the show has come in such a short time. I am very grateful for my experience during this internship, and I am so excited to take what I have learned and apply these lessons later on in my career working on decolonization practices within exhibition settings.

    Categories: 
    • Identity
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

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