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AAHC Forum: Pacific Northwest Provides Professional Development for African American Museum Professionals

November 15, 2012

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Brian J. Carter
Deputy Director, Northwest African American Museum 

Located in Seattle, WA, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) opened its doors in 2008 as the only museum in the country focused on the history, art, and culture of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Having recently graduated from the museology graduate program at the University of Washington (UW), I was proud to fulfill my role as Educator Director, creating the museum’s initial educational products and offerings. Soon after the opening, I was appointed deputy director and charged with overseeing the curatorial efforts of the museum. As an emerging museum professional, I realized my own development as curator, and the necessary evolution of the exhibits department, rested on the institution’s ability to build capacity within this department.

NAAM's building exterior. Photo by Jennifer Richard.

Toward that end, NAAM sought support from IMLS through the Museum Grants for African American History and Culture program. During only our second year of operation, we were awarded funds for a project designed to strengthen the curatorial capacity of our exhibits department by 1) attracting, hiring, and retaining a full-time curatorial assistant; 2) strengthening the pipeline between UW and NAAM by establishing an annual nine-month curatorial internship; and 3) undertaking a two-year program of professional development including on-site and in-depth skill-building workshops with local museum professionals and attendance at selected professional conferences.

A gallery shot of NAAM's newest show: Bearing Witness from Another Place, James Baldwin in Turkey. Photo by Robert Wade.

I am happy to report this project has been a tremendous success! My own skills and talents as a curator have been nourished and undoubtedly improved by the activities undertaken through this project. Yet perhaps the greatest achievement of this project is NAAM’s success attracting young museum professionals to the field of African American history and culture. With the support of IMLS, NAAM has been able to utilize its Curatorial Internship program to identify these young museologists and meaningfully incorporate them into the operations of NAAM.

For example, the first curatorial intern from the University of Washington, Chieko Phillips, went on to assume the role of curatorial assistant at the museum. Her intelligence, work ethic, and creativity have helped shape the course and quality of NAAM’s exhibitions. Most recently, Ms. Phillips has assumed the lead curatorial role for an upcoming exhibition featuring the work of a local mixed-media collage artist.

It is my sincere hope and belief that NAAM will evolve into an incubator of young talent for the field where formal learning, professional development, and real world experience shape the next generation of African American history and culture museum professionals. Thank you, IMLS!


Museum Grants for African American History and Culture
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture