When Kathya Lopez ’18 set foot on Gettysburg College’s campus, she already knew she wanted art in her future.
The first-year student from South Central Los Angeles discovered the art world when she interned for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in high school with the education department. She never dreamed she’d return the following summer for a week-long intensive program as part of the prestigious 2015 Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy and Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship program.
“I grew up in a low-income area with gangs, drugs, and violence. I was introduced to art and loved it,” said Lopez. “LACMA has this great program where children under the age of 17 get to be ‘members’ of the museum.”
The membership gave Lopez the opportunity to attend the museum exhibitions for free, which further expanded her knowledge in art history and introduced her to community outreach through art.
When Lopez heard about the opportunity to apply to the Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy at LACMA, she decided to “take a chance” and apply. Five museums nation-wide participate in the program, and only 15 students are accepted at each museum.
“The purpose of the program is to diversify the field of curators in museums,” said Lopez. “I believe this is important because it will create different perspectives in the way we see art.”
The 2015 Mellon Summer Academy students with Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director of LACMA, Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA
The program is specifically geared towards undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups in the curatorial field, and has two components, the Mellon Summer Academy, and the Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship. Following each Summer Academy, students submit supplemental materials for fellowship consideration. Then, two students are awarded multi-year fellowships at each partner museum.
Finding a Mentor
Lopez found Gettysburg College as a part of her acceptance and mentorship in the One Voice Scholars program, which has a relationship with the College. One Voice prepares and places inner city Los Angeles high school students across 30 colleges and universities in the nation.
She applied to Gettysburg because she learned it was a place of opportunity. “I wanted to go to a college where I could visit different places. I never would have imagined being able to visit museums in Washington D.C. through my art history classes and visit New York City through CAB,” she said.
During her first year, Lopez attended many lectures, gallery openings, and career-related workshops. She found a mentor in Art & Art History Prof. Felicia Else, who taught her first-year seminar, “Florence: Art, Money, and Power in the Renaissance City,” and serves as her current advisor.
“I learned so much from Prof. Else. She has given me great advice and was kind enough to write my letter of recommendation for the program,” said Lopez.
Else introduced her to Prof. Shannon Egan in the Schmucker Art Gallery, sparking an interest in the curatorial side of art.
“Kathya is one of the strongest and most ambitious first-year students I have had,” said Else. “She’s well-positioned to work in community outreach or the curatorial field due to her background, museum experience, and outgoing personality.”
Else stressed the high level of competition for the Mellon Summer Academy, “It is unusual for me to see a first-year student already have experience with interning at a prestigious institution like LACMA and also get accepted into a program like the Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy and Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship. Opportunities like these in the arts are competitive at all levels- even for graduates and graduate students.”
2015 Summer Academy student Kathya Lopez standing next to Reciting Poetry before the Yellowing of Autumn by Wu Li, Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA
During the week-long Summer Academy, Lopez was able to meet with a variety of professionals who work at LACMA and learn about their career paths. The students met with local artists, visited another museum, and curated their own virtual exhibition from LACMA’s collection, called “Transcending Self.”
“One of the most challenging aspects of the week was finding a theme for our virtual exhibition,” said Lopez. “I tend to think more concretely, and the theme for our exhibition had to be more conceptual and abstract. Understanding the theme and learning how to connect that with my chosen artwork was a challenge.”
The artwork Lopez focused on was, Reciting Poetry before the Yellowing of Autumn by Wu Li, a Chinese landscape. “I was able to bring prior knowledge I had learned from Prof. Yan Sun’s ‘Arts of China’ course I took the previous semester,” she said.
Lopez applied for the Fellowship, and wants to continue exploring the curatorial field. “I know now that curating is not solely one person managing it, but includes many people to get a show open to the public.”