Staff diversity is vitally essential in cultivating new audiences and developing innovative strategies to grow and maintain relevant and community relationships. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey released in 2015 and repeated in 2018 concluded that people of color are dramatically underrepresented in professional positions in American art museum. The study found that young professionals of color make up just 11 percent of intellectual leadership staff up from 7 percent in 2015.
Daniel and Adelaide Schlafly and the Saint Louis Art Museum recognized this need for staff diversity back in 1992 when they created the annual Romare Bearden Museum Fellowship program. Now in its 27th year, the Bearden Fellowship, named in honor of artist Romare Bearden, was specifically created to cultivate future museum professionals by advancing the knowledge, skills, and networking capabilities that make careers in museums possible for people of color.
Following an annual nationwide search, Asmaa Walton was awarded the 2019-2020 Bearden Fellowship. Directly reporting to Renee Franklin, Director of Audience Development, Walton will receive hands-on work experience in various museum functions, including curatorial work, public programming, interpretive materials, marketing, and fundraising. Of particular interest to Walton are audience development and community engagement.
A native of Detroit, Walton has a master's degree in Arts Politics from New York University and a bachelor of fine arts degree in Art Education from Michigan State University. These two programs merge her interests in community-based art education and the use of art as a catalyst for social change for more equity in the arts. Asmaa aspires to use her range of knowledge of the arts to be an advocate for Black art and artists by building a bridge between museums and communities.
Before joining us as the Romare Bearden Fellow, Asmaa was the inaugural KeyBank Diversity Leadership Fellow at the Toledo Museum of Art. During her one year fellowship at the Toledo Museum of Art, she worked in the education and engagement department assisting with their teen apprentice program, annual ekphrastic poetry contest, and with their first teacher conference along with a variety of external community programs.
When asked about a program she developed at the Toledo Museum that she was most proud, Walton commented, "I organized a teen night that differed from ones in the past. In collaboration with the museum showing a documentary entitled ‘Black is the Color,’ which explores the barriers Black artists have faced when it comes to having their work exhibited and collected, the film highlights key moments in the history of African-American visual art. I added a discussion led by the Teen Apprentices. The teens researched the artists and provided visitors information about the works of art and artists who created the works. It was an excellent opportunity to expose the teens to new artists and for visitors to see the talent of the apprentices.”
Join me in welcoming Walton to St. Louis as she works to expand the narrative of the arts within and beyond the Saint Louis Art Museum walls.
Image: Photo of Asmaa Walton