From 2010 to 2017, I worked at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Initially, I worked as Public Relations and Public Programs Manager, managing, strategizing and implementing two key engagement platforms: audience experience, and all facets of public relations and social media. I ran the museum's film program and most adult programming.
In 2015, I was promoted to the position of Associate Curator of Film and Public Engagement. I led Brooks Outside, a new outdoor exhibition initiative, establishing a new model for public engagement that reflected and built on the museum's unique identity as the oldest and only encyclopedic art museum in the Mid-South. I conceived and executed experimental community engagement programming, and curated a robust film program that offered 100+ screenings per year.
I oversaw this innovative curatorial program that launched with the museum's centennial in spring 2016. The exhibition series was designed to bring art beyond the museum's walls--either to the larger campus of Overton Park, or to outlying areas of the city. These short, intense, community-activating installations were selected to resonate long after their removal, to enhance community outreach, and to facilitate discussion. I produced two major Brooks Outside exhibitions: Red Ball, which appeared in 10 locations around Memphis in May 2016, and Intrude, which was installed on the Brooks' plaza in January 2017.
Beginning in 2014, I began a concentrated effort to offer programming for and/or produced by Memphis' LGBTQ population. While the Brooks was always considered a "safe" place for queer audiences, I sought to directly engage the community via film screenings, tours, and other programming. Here, non-gendered art historian Virginia Solomon discusses sexuality in works in the museum's permanent collection with a capacity audience.
Programming as an Entry Point
Much of my programming was related to work on view at the museum, whether by subject matter, geography, time period, or other themes. Well-curated programming provided both context and entry point for all museum visitors. I worked with different community groups to forge connections between fine art and popular media, which greatly encouraged repeat visitors and helped to promote the more general goings-on at the museum. Here, Hattiloo Theatre performed a line reading of George C. Wolfe's The Colored Museum in galleries where Hassan Hajjaj's My Rock Stars was on view.
While the American Association of Museums reports that just 9 percent of core museum visitors are minorities, that number is much higher at the Brooks, particularly in regards to African American and Latin audiences. I frequently collaborated with performers and guest speakers of color, including Masta Ace, Think BLK, IMAKEMADBEATS, Tonya Dyson/The Word, Cities Aviv, and multi-disciplined artist Lawrence Matthews, seen here.
I established a weekly yoga practice at the museum, led by Misti Rae Holton. Mindfulness in the galleries promoted "deep looking" and encouraged museum visitors to feel at home in formal spaces.
Community Building Through Conversation
Via Art & a Movie, a program I began in 2011, filmgoers were encouraged to foster conversation and community by participating in make-and-take art activities before screening a related film. Art & a Movie provided intentionally designed opportunities for strangers to interact, and created a welcome hubbub in the museum lobby. This program also shifted the traditional adult visitor paradigm to a "learning by doing" philosophy, offering participants more meaningful access to the artwork on view.
As associate curator, I felt that city institutions such as the Brooks needed to offer frequent and affordable experiences. Bringing in guest speakers also helped boost the profile of our film program. During my tenure, I used outside connections to create a variety of iconic experiences. Special guests included members of the New York Dolls, who discussed their career next to a 1973 photograph of the band by Alain Dister; author Peter Guralnick, who began his book tour for Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll at the Brooks; rapper Masta Ace, who discussed his family's move from Tennessee to New York during the Great Migration; and Warhol Superstar/underground film legend/LGBTQ icon Joe Dallesandro, seen here in conversation with Clough Hanson Gallery director Joel Parsons.
Collaborations with Working Artists
I used programming to forge new relationships with working artists who reside in Memphis--particularly minority and women artists. I frequently created opportunities for artists to sketch museum visitors, to document objects in the permanent collection, and to engage visitors in their own work by discussing their artistic process, by showing off their sketchbooks or creating prototypes for participatory experiences.