How the presence of diverse voices fosters understanding

By Joseph Daniel Valencia

A museum career is not a familiar path for my Mexican American family.

Indeed, from time to time I struggle to explain the scope of my work to my loved ones, especially my grandparents whose first language is Spanish.

Words like curator, exhibition or even museum were not exactly words that I grew up using in either language. It was not until college, where I was required to visit museums for class assignments, that I even began to visit museums on a regular basis.

At Cal State Fullerton, I was exposed to a variety of academic disciplines and ideas. Art Department courses in exhibition design and museum studies solidified my interest in the museum field, while courses within the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice opened my eyes to the complexities of the world.

I learned how policy and other factors could shape the experiences of entire groups of people in the United States, and I began to think that perhaps not participating in museums or knowing about museum careers was a sign of a larger, more systemic issue related to race, class and institutional access.

It turns out I was right. In 2015, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation released a report on art museum staff demographics, finding that although demographics in the United States are shifting, many of the country’s workforces — including the museum sector — have yet to shift to represent the rising diversity of the country. The study recognized that collective hurdles related to race, class and gender, as well as lack of access to mentorship and educational pipelines into museum careers, each play roles in maintaining a mostly homogenous museum workforce.

PRESIDENT'S EDUCATION & ART GALA by Monica OrozcoOne may think: why does a diverse museum workforce matter? Well, as I have witnessed through my own museum internships and jobs, the presence of diverse voices often translates to a deeper understanding and inclusion of underrepresented content within the museum walls.

The 70+ Getty-sponsored exhibitions and programs about Latin American and Latino art, presently happening across Southern California as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, illustrate this point. This unprecedented, cross-cultural celebration was made possible by the many guest curators and contracted staff specialists whose knowledge and experiences brought the content to life.

At the Vincent Price Art Museum, where I currently work, we do our very best to represent and engage with the many communities we serve in neighboring East Los Angeles, Monterey Park and the greater Los Angeles area. From exhibitions examining generations of youth subcultures in Los Angeles, to joining artists from across the hemisphere in conversation about decolonization, to elder and emerging artists from our community, we are constantly looking for ways to tell a richer and more inclusive story of the world in which we live.

Most recently, I worked on our survey exhibition of photographer Laura Aguilar, where over the course of a year and a half, I supported the curator with the research and implementation of the exhibition and its accompanying catalog. My duties included conducting research on artworks, editing and finalizing museum labels, assisting with the digitization of artworks, as well as liaising with publishing staff to ensure the exhibition catalog met production deadlines. Now that the exhibition is open, I lead tours in the galleries, distribute press materials to art critics and journalists, and coordinate logistics for the exhibition’s event series.

Although I am still in the early stages of my museum career, I recognize that my path thus far has been made possible by the many mentors who have come into my life. Professors, supervisors and even colleagues have each in their own way invested time into helping me become a better version of myself. Many have connected me with like-minded peers, and some have even helped me apply for museum jobs and internships (diversity focus or otherwise) to ensure that I got my foot in the door.

Their mentorship taught me that taking time to help others in one’s field is the right path, and their impact on my own life ensures that I will remain committed to doing so in the many years to come.

This article originally appeared in the OC Register.

Image by Monica Orozco.

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