To celebrate the MFA’s historic 150th anniversary year, the Museum is excited to present the teen-curated exhibition “Black Histories, Black Futures,” featuring 20th-century art by artists of color from the Americas. Curated by Boston-area high school students, the exhibition involves the complete rethinking and reinstallation of the exhibition spaces between the Huntington and Fenway entrances.
The teens participating in the program are paid MFA interns sponsored by Boston-area organizations that support young men and women from diverse backgrounds. This is an exciting and transformative experience, as many of these students are new to the arts. To introduce the interns to exhibition planning, the MFA created the Curatorial Study Hall, a series of workshops mostly taught by Museum staff. This hands-on approach to teen mentoring provides the students with skills applicable not only to this project, but to their experiences beyond the Museum.
The exhibition focuses on modern art from the John Axelrod Collection, a broad but understudied collection that includes major works by African American and Latin American artists, transforming the Museum’s holdings in this area. The feedback from this project will inform the MFA’s future installations and interpretations of the Axelrod Collection, as well as serve as a bridge to underrepresented communities.
The exhibition title and the selection of American artists of color for this project were very conscious choices made by the teen interns. It was their feeling that the typical experience of people of color entering a museum is one that is created solely by the experiences of white artists or one that depicts solely white upper-class experience. The students wanted the new installation to more accurately reflect their view of life, including overarching themes related to community life and leisure activities, the city, and subjects of dignity and adversity.
During the planning process one student commented that Archibald Motley’s painting Cocktails (about 1926), see above, reminded him of Sunday family dinners at his aunt’s house—exactly the type of connection that the new installation hopes to achieve, allowing art to function as a way to bridge experiences across diverse communities.