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Insider's Look: The Next Generation of Curators

Meet the inaugural Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellows, Sarah Molina (right) and Sheridan Tucker (left). Sheridan and Sarah have spent the last year and a half mentoring under Art Institute curators through the Mellon Curatorial Fellowship.  

Established in 2013—and currently accepting applications now!—the Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy and Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program provides specialized training for students from groups historically underrepresented in the curatorial field and those who support the goal of promoting inclusive, pluralistic museums. The program is organized around two components: the Summer Academy (a weeklong curatorial intensive for fifteen students) and the Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship (a two-year curatorial fellowship for two of the fifteen Summer Academy alumni).

We recently spent some time with Sheridan and Sarah to hear about their experience as curatorial fellows and to gain a sense of what attracts this generation of students to curatorial careers.

What made you want to pursue a curatorial career and what impact do you hope to have on the field? 

Sheridan: Growing up I was creative kid. My mother enrolled me in summer art camps and afterschool art programs. Creating has been a life long hobby of mine, but very early in art school as a fashion major, I realized that I was perhaps more suited for a career in the arts as opposed to becoming an actual artist. I eventually changed my focus to Art History when I transferred to the School of the Art Institute (SAIC), then to Visual and Critical Studies. At SAIC I was lucky enough to intern with the Art Institute’s curator of the African art. I firmly believe art museums offer the perfect platform to engage with the visual culture both socially and creatively.

It is my hope that my impact on the field would include participation in establishing programming and exhibitions geared toward social practice and community engagement, as well as creating opportunities that promote and encourage art accessibility.

Sarah: I was drawn to the intellectual and community aspects associated with being a curator. I realized that this profession would allow me to combine my research interests and my interests in creating educational materials for the public. I am not quite sure what I want my impact to be—I'm just getting started! However, I would say that I am committed to considering how art can be fundamental in creating a more ethical community life.

“Curator” is a word that is currently used in many contexts outside museums. Since there are so many places where you could interact with various forms of art, what attracts you to museums specifically?

Sarah: Possibilities within museums excite me. I like having the ability to interact directly with objects and always be learning something new. I am also excited by a museum's potential to be an active community space.

Sheridan: Although this may sound cheesy, I really do love art. I am always inspired by the myriad of ways in which an artwork can be interpreted differently depending on the background and experiences of the viewer. I totally believe in the transformational power of art and its many functions. So I think a museum would be a natural choice for me. Here is an institution that holds a wealth of artworks, which allow for the exchange of ideas, experiences, and conversations.

To date, what do you think has been the most formative experience you have had at the Art Institute? Or more broadly as part of this curatorial fellowship program?

Sheridan: Perhaps the most rewarding experience I have had in the museum is the opportunity to work with incredibly brilliant and talented curators who are so very generous in sharing their knowledge, as well as encouraging and inspiring my own ideas and personal development. Though this is not just one experience, I am constantly reminded of how influential and life changing this entire fellowship has been. I have learned so much and I am very grateful for the opportunity, the support, and the relationships.

Sarah: It is difficult to choose but every instance in which I have been able to look at an object with a curatorial mentor has been deeply influential. Particularly when viewing objects in storage. I am so used to seeing a PowerPoint slide in class with an object and all of its relevant information, but in storage, that information is unknown, and I have been forced to use my own eyes to assess the object.

How do you think your generation's curatorial practices will differ from those of previous generations?

Sarah: My primary interests are grounded in historical rather than contemporary art, but I have always been fascinated by the curatorial practices of many experimental curators of contemporary art. I would say that I am foremost a historian and follow my mentors' footsteps in emphasizing the context of an object and the object itself, but I am also interested in combining more contemporary curatorial practices with this deference to history!

Sheridan: I think the younger generation of curators has the opportunity to merge curatorial practice and artistic practice. It seems now that curators are able about think about curatorial work as a platform to engage social practice as well as activism. I’m very excited about this shift in the conception of curatorial practice and how it affects the roles curators have.

Thanks Sheridan and Sarah!

Visit to learn more about the Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy and Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program. 

—Interview by Felicia Mings, Coordinator of Andrew W. Mellon Academic Programs

Image Credits:

Sheridan Tucker and Sarah Molina in the galleries

Sheridan Tucker with her Art Institute mentors (L to R) Sarah Kelly Oehler, the Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Associate Curator of American Art, and Kate Nesin, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Sarah Molina with her Art Institute mentors in the European Painting and Sculpture department (L to R) Rebecca Long, the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Associate Curator, Jonathan Tavares, Associate Curator of Arms and Armor, and Martha Wolff, Eleanor Wood Prince Curator of European Painting before 1750