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Cultural shift: ASU partners with LACMA to increase diversity in museum professionals

May 7, 2018

Arizona State University is partnering with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a new master’s fellowship designed to increase diversity among museum professionals.

The three-year program, called the LACMA-ASU Master’s Fellowship in Art History, will combine traditional master's-level coursework and a thesis with working 30 hours a week at LACMA or the ASU Art Museum, which is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The first-of-its-kind program will offer mentorship between students, curators and faculty and allow students to accelerate their careers. 

The new degree, to launch in August, was announced Tuesday in Phoenix where American Alliance of Museums was also holding its annual conference.

Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute, called the lack of diversity in museums a “cultural crisis.”

“We are not filling the leadership with the incredible, creative diversity of this country,” he said, noting that most diversity programs are for undergraduates but that the fellowship will be a way to fast-track people into leadership positions in the field.

LACMA Director and CEO Michael Govan said the partnership with ASU, which is committed to widening access, was a natural.

“We saw eye to eye very much about what we could do together to address some fairly large barriers to the future success and survival of art museums,” he said.

“The arts have been around for tens of thousands of years, museums for a couple hundred. It’s just a device we use to create access. So it’s no wonder that museums might be needing to change continuously.”

The first year will be a pilot program, starting with a handful of students drawn from people already affiliated with the two museums, Tepper said. Later this year, ASU and LACMA will decide how to accept future students.

The fellows, who must apply and be accepted by ASU, will travel back and forth between Los Angeles and Tempe several times a year, attending workshops and taking classes together through technology. The coursework will explore how museums can be more equitable and include a diverse range of voices and experiences. LACMA staff and Herberger faculty will offer a new course on curatorial and museum practice in the 21st century.

ASU President Michael M. Crow said that the fellowship is one of several programs that the university will undertake with LACMA, and he praised Govan for thinking innovatively.

“He thinks on a social scale. He thinks on a cultural scale, and he thinks about the transformation of society,” Crow said.

Miki Garcia, director of the ASU Art Museum, said that the partnership will allow ASU to have access to some of the collections from LACMA, making the art available to people in the Phoenix community who might never have the chance to travel to Los Angeles.

She said she took the job of director four months ago to be a part of reinventing the museum.

“I’m the product of a pipeline initiative and mentorship, and I wouldn’t be here without that,” she said.

“I’m keenly aware of what it’s like to walk into spaces where my stories aren’t being told and I don’t see myself on those walls, and we’ll change that at ASU.”

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, founded in 1965, is the largest art museum in the Western United States, with a collection of more than 135,000 objects spanning 6,000 years of art history.

Top photo: LACMA Director and CEO Michael Govan (left) and ASU President Michael M. Crow address the crowd at the official launch of the LACMA-ASU Masters Fellowship in Art History on Tuesday evening at the A.E. England Building in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Jamie Ell/ASU Now

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