In 2021, The Chrysler Museum of Art, in partnership with the Hampton University Museum was awarded a $500,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The highly competitive grant aims to diversify the field of Curation and Conservation by conducting a three-year pilot fellowship program for two aspiring museum professionals who have completed master’s degrees. The curatorial fellow, Tashae Smith, and the conservation fellow, Elizabeth Robson, will examine the Chrysler Museum’s traditional African collection and Hampton University Museum’s Harmon Foundation Collection of Modern African Art. Their work will demonstrate the ongoing importance of collecting, preserving and studying non-Western art. During the second and third years of the program, one Hampton University undergraduate student will also participate in a paid summer internship at the Chrysler Museum.

The fellows will work under the mentorship of both institutions to curate two public exhibitions, originate a small catalog and prioritize and conserve a group of objects from the collections.

They will also write for Hampton’s influential art journal International Review of African American Art (IRAAA), develop educational curriculum-based materials for college students and deliver several presentations to the public and the institution’s docents and volunteers. Through their work, the Chrysler’s African collection will benefit from research for new scholarship, while Hampton’s Harmon Foundation Modern African Art collection will gain more notoriety.

Both fellows will spend the first year of the program focused on the Hampton University Museum’s Harmon Foundation Collection, where they will identify 20–30 paintings for conservation and art historical scholarship. After one year of assessing Hampton’s Harmon collection, the conservation fellow will be based at the Chrysler Museum, treating the objects in the conservation lab under the leadership of Mark Lewis, the the Chrysler’s conservator. The curatorial fellow will also spend the second year researching the Chrysler Museum’s collection of African art, identifying 20–30 works for research and conservation and using the works identified at both institutions to develop education guides for college students and the general public. The curatorial fellow will devote the final year of the program to organizing two exhibitions with a small catalog that will be presented at the Chrysler Museum and Hampton University Museum based on their previous two years of research.

Dartey Emotion Painting
Harmon Collection Painting

Progress of this three year fellowship can be followed through the blog (insert name of blog) which the fellows will use to upload engaging articles on artists and their artworks from the Harmon Foundation Modern African Art collection, treatments on the artworks, and their experience with working with the Harmon Foundation collection and the Chrysler Museum’s Traditional African Art collection.

An article published in Volume 30 of the International Review of African American Art presents the results of a survey released in 2015 that uncovered a lack of diversity in the museum field, particularly in curatorial, conservation and other leadership roles. According to the The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, Whites occupy 84% of director, curator, conservator and educator positions. Asians occupy 6% of those positions, while 4% of the positions are held by Blacks. Hispanic whites occupy 3% of the leadership roles.

Gant and Thaxton-Ward, both women of color, hold more than 30 years of combined curatorial and research experience and have encountered challenges and triumphs in the field. They recognize the need for a fellowship such as this to nurture the next generation of museum professionals and look forward to research about the collection, interpretation and language. The fellows’ work will result in a more comprehensive picture of art’s global history and have long-lasting impacts on the staff and visitors’ experience at both museums.

“It is an honor to partner with Hampton University Museum to make strides toward diversifying the curatorial and conservation fields while also turning the spotlight on our understudied collections of African art. We look forward to welcoming emerging scholars in the museum field who will benefit from practical training at both institutions, and we are grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s support in this endeavor.”

Kimberli Gant, Ph.D
Former McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Chrysler Museum of Art

“We are elated to receive funding from the Mellon Foundation. It is very exciting on many levels, and the Hampton University Museum is committed to working hand-in-hand with the Chrysler Museum of Art to increase diversity in the curatorial and conservation professions. We will draw upon the significant resources that have been developed at Hampton since 1868 and the Chrysler Museum of Art since 1933,”

Vanessa Thaxton-Ward, Ph.D
Director and Chief Curator, Hampton University Museum

Meet the Fellows

About the Institutions

Chrysler Museum of Art

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The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. The Museum has growing collections in many areas and mounts an ambitious schedule of visiting exhibitions and educational programs each season. The Chrysler has also been recognized nationally for its unique commitment to hospitality with its innovative gallery host program.

Hampton University Museum

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Founded in 1868, the Hampton University Museum is the oldest African American museum in the U.S., and one of the oldest museums in Virginia. Hampton’s collection consists of 10,000 objects including traditional art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, Native America, as well as African American art, such as works by Henry O. Tanner. The Harmon Foundation collection includes African American art, and an extensive collection of modern African art; 200+ paintings, prints and sculpture by more than 40 African artists. The modern African art includes Nigerian artists Ben Enwonwu, Akinola Laskean, and Bruce Onobrakpeya; South African artists Peter Clarke; Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, and many others.

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and we believe that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom to be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.