Megan Conway

Teen curators take action

At the start of a new paid internship last summer, MFA Curatorial Study Hall intern Jennifer Rosa said that she’d “love to help create an exhibition that’ll reach the eyes of any individual—touch ’em a little bit.” Rosa’s aspiration will be realized on MLK Day, when an exhibition curated by local high school students, a first for the MFA, opens at the Museum.

The young curators had the opportunity to explore the Museum’s collection of Black artists and took on the full scope of curatorial responsibilities: they researched, came up with the concept and themes, wrote labels, selected the art, and arranged their selections on the walls. The resulting exhibition, “Black Histories, Black Futures,” reimagines central spaces of the Museum between the Huntington and Fenway entrances. Through 20th-century works by artists of color from the Americas, the exhibition reflects on Black experiences and representations in a dynamic range of media: both figurative and abstract paintings, photographs of street scenes and intimate moments, drawings, and watercolors, to name a few.

The teens selected some work by Boston-based artists, like SMFA graduate Loïs Mailou Jones—whose work is also currently on view in “Women Take the Floor”—and longtime South End resident Allan Rohan Crite, suggesting a shared pride of place. “I hope locals feel some more connection to the pieces knowing that our neighbors created them—and knowing the curators are also our neighbors,” says Sidney Bowden, the Museum’s youth intern coordinator. “For Bostonians, the MFA is in our backyard. It’s not very hard to get to,” Bowden continues. “But for a lot of people, there are hurdles to actually enjoying the space. The exhibition gives people who are in the surrounding communities a chance to feel some sort of ownership over this place. To walk in and see pieces of art created by or about people who look like you is an otherworldly experience. It’s very empowering.”

Curatorial Study Hall was developed last summer in partnership with local youth empowerment organizations Becoming a Man (BAM), the BASE, and the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program managed by EdVestors. Layla Bermeo, the teens’ mentor and the Kristin and Roger Servison Associate Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, emphasized that “this project was completely driven by their visions.” The MFA is thrilled to have these visions on view at the fore throughout its 150th anniversary year in 2020.

Four participants of last summer's Curatorial Study Hall continued to work at the MFA through the fall, completing the curatorial visions for each section of the exhibition.

headshot of Armani Rivas
Armani Rivas—Junior, John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science; lives in Dorchester
headshot of Jennifer Rosa
Jennifer Rosa—Senior, John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science; lives in Mattapan
headshot of Destiny Santiago-Mitchell
Destiny Santiago-Mitchell—Senior, Wellesley High School; lives in Dorchester
headshot of Jadon Smith
Jadon Smith—Junior, John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science; lives in Dorchester

Megan Conway is an associate editor at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.