Claremont, Calif. (December 9, 2021)—Pitzer College senior Marisa Cruz Branco ’22 is one of 22 college students nationwide who have been selected to participate in The Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program. The fellowship provides specialized training to students from historically underrepresented groups in the curatorial field and supports the goal of promoting inclusive, pluralistic museums. As a Mellon fellow, Branco will gain hands-on curatorial experience at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which introduced the 2021-22 class of Mellon fellows in a joint announcement with five other major U.S. museums participating in the program.
Mellon Fellows are matched with a curatorial mentor at some of the nation’s top museums, where they help curators and staff work on exhibitions, collections, and programs. An art history major at Pitzer, Branco began the fellowship this fall under the mentorship of Tushara Bindu Gude, associate curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at LACMA. Branco is currently working with Gude’s department to select pieces for a show that is scheduled to open in 2024.
“I am really enjoying learning more about the process of creating an exhibition, from concept to art acquisition to exhibition design and a million other steps,” Branco said.
Branco said she is also learning a lot about “how complex and multi-layered every process within the museum world is, and how many people make intentional and subjective choices about what artwork is shown and how.”
The Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship helps open up that complex and multi-layered process to include more points of view and lived experiences, she said.
“Programs like this bring in younger people with personal connections and passion for the types of changes that museums are just starting to be able to undertake,” she said. “Talking to other fellows, like Pomona College student Alexa Ramirez (PO ’23) and our other coworkers, makes me really excited about the future of curation and museum’s strategies for learning about and reflecting the perspectives of these younger artists and art historians.”
Pitzer College Professor of Art Bill Anthes said The Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program’s goal of “promoting inclusive, pluralistic museums” is important if museum leadership is to look more like the populations art institutions serve.
“Museums represent our collective cultural memory and identity, so it’s important that museum professionals—collections managers, curators, educators, and directors—also be representative of our increasingly diverse society,” Anthes said. “Marisa has a lot to offer the museum world, and I look forward to seeing these institutions transformed and enlivened by the vision and commitment of the next generation of diverse leaders.”
The fellowship announcement provided a bio on each of the 22 curatorial fellows and described Branco as “learning not only from her peers and professors but also the Tongva community” at Pitzer College.
“She hopes to focus her art historical study on Indigenous art as well as representations of divinity and what they can tell us about ancient and modern perceptions of non-human animals, gender, and race,” the statement says. “In her conversations and work with other artists and people interested in the art world, she hopes to center decolonial and zoocentric narratives.”
In the announcement, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan said LACMA was fortunate “to welcome our newest Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellows, who can help us see important areas of our collection in a new light.”
Usually a two-year fellowship, the program was postponed last year due to the pandemic and was temporarily adjusted to host one-year fellowships for 2021-22.
Since The Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship began in 2014, 54 fellows have completed the program, and 18 alumni went on to graduate programs around the world. Program alumni include Pitzer graduate Lauren Churchwell ’18, who subsequently earned a master of philosophy in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Cambridge.