Asmaa Walton hasn’t run short of opportunity after earning a bachelor’s degree in Art Education from Michigan State University in 2017. Following the completion of an M.A. in Art Politics from New York University (NYU) and a Toledo Museum of Art KeyBank Diversity Leadership Fellowship, Walton will join the St. Louis Art Museum this September as the 26th Romare Bearden Fellow.
The Romare Bearden Fellowship, designed to prepare graduate students of color seeking careers as art historians and museum professionals, was founded with the goal of expanding the number of underrepresented professionals working in art-related fields in museums, galleries, nonprofit organizations, and universities. It is a one-year paid fellowship named for African-American artist Romare Bearden.
“One thing that I’m really big on, no matter what position I end up working in, is equity. That’s one thing I know I want to work on no matter what because there is a lack of it in the art industry,” Walton said. “Whatever I do, I want to be an advocate for artists, especially for artists of color.”
One thing that I’m really big on, no matter what position I end up working in, is equity. That’s one thing I know I want to work on no matter what because there is a lack of it in the art industry. Whatever I do, I want to be an advocate for artists, especially for artists of color.
As a freshman at MSU, Walton explored a few different majors before landing in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. After taking classes at Kresge, she decided that Art Education was the career path she connected with most.
“Since the Art Department is pretty small, I got really good at working with people and sharing space,” Walton said. “I ended up bonding with everyone and becoming sort of a family with them. It was a really nice group of people to work with.”
A large portion of the Art Education cohort typically pursues a teaching certificate after graduation, but Walton decided on an alternative path, which landed her a full-ride scholarship to NYU to pursue an M.A. in Art Politics where she studied how art can be used as a form of activism and the various ways art can benefit a community.
“By the time I got to NYU, I became interested in museums. I really liked the idea of community organizations that work with the arts and can reach the community with the work they’re doing,” Walton said. “I find museums fascinating because they are a place in the community where anybody can come and just learn about art.”
After completing her M.A., Walton began an internship at the Toledo Museum of Art, where she supervised the Teen Apprentices student group from the Toledo School of the Arts. She helped students learn about the museum and worked with them on independent projects.
After the three-month internship ended, Walton was accepted as the Toledo Museum of Art’s KeyBank Diversity Leadership Fellow, which was created specifically for people of color who are interested in museum leadership careers.
Oftentimes people in communities avoid going to museums because they don’t feel like those spaces are for them, so one thing I’m really big on is equity inside those institutions and the community using museum spaces as educational resources.
The fellowship allowed Walton to combine her specialty in art education with her interest in equity by expanding her leadership role with the Teen Apprentice group. Walton was responsible for organizing outreach events for teenagers in the Toledo community with the goal of providing a space where young people could immerse themselves in the arts.
“Oftentimes people in communities avoid going to museums because they don’t feel like those spaces are for them, so one thing I’m really big on is equity inside those institutions and the community using museum spaces as educational resources,” Walton said. “Going to the museum isn’t about knowing everything about art and being an art historian, it’s about going there, seeing things you like, and learning something new.”
To celebrate Black History Month, the teen night showcased the documentary, Black is the Color. After the showing, the Teen Apprentices conducted research on two works in the museum that were created by Black artists, so when visitors walked by the pieces, the students could offer information gathered from their research.
At another teen night, Kehinde Wiley, an artist well-known for his portrait of Barack Obama, visited the event, which gave teenagers in the community the opportunity to interact with him. Wiley’s artwork also was displayed in an exhibit at the museum during the time of the event.
“Opportunities where you can get people into the museum are great, and once you get people in, they can discover for themselves if this is somewhere they want to keep coming,” Walton said. “If they’re never able to even get in the door because they feel like they can’t afford it or because of other barriers, it’s going to deter them from coming back. It’s really important for curators to connect people with information and have outreach events because you can’t just depend on people to come into the museum on their own.”
Written by Annie Dubois