In partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, UCLA is designing a new curriculum for the training of doctoral students in art history to prepare them to become future leaders in the field.
A $600,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will enable the university and the museum to create the UCLA-LACMA Art History Practicum Initiative, a first-of-its-kind partnership on the West Coast that will provide graduate students with an educational opportunity that integrates the academic classroom and the art museum.
“Thanks to this generous gift, we are enhancing our world-class art history program in response to the changing needs of this competitive job market,” said David Schaberg, dean of humanities. “By connecting research with careers, UCLA and LACMA will educate the modern leaders of the art world.”
This dynamic institutional partnership will match LACMA’s broad scope and encyclopedic collection with UCLA’s robust art history program, which trains scholars in fields ranging from Renaissance art to the art of Asia, Africa and the Americas. While both institutions are integral members of the cultural landscape of Los Angeles, their reputations as international leaders in art history and education position this initiative to have a significant impact far beyond the Los Angeles region.
“LACMA is proud to partner with UCLA in this initiative, thanks to the incredible support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “Education is a primary component of LACMA’s mission. In many ways our galleries are classrooms. The art on view is a window into history and into cultures from around the world, as described by the artists who were there. We welcome UCLA’s students into our museum as part of their education.”
Currently, the basic requirements for a Ph.D. in art history at most major universities include proof of proficiency in two or more foreign languages, a minimum number of graduate-level courses, written and oral exams, and the completion of a dissertation.
“It is not uncommon for students to complete this training without exposure to actual works of art beyond the most superficial encounter,” said Professor Miwon Kwon, who is the chair of the Department of Art History at UCLA. “Despite the fact that the starting point of art history is the work of art, the discipline fails to require students to actively interact with the very pieces they are studying. The teaching of art history itself must be recalibrated to integrate opportunities for students to encounter, examine and learn from direct interaction with art.”
Starting this fall, incoming graduate students in the art history program will pursue a curriculum that splits their time between UCLA and LACMA. In addition to working alongside museum professionals with works of art that range from ancient American to contemporary, students will participate in seminars collaboratively designed by faculty and museum staff that address issues around the museum’s collection, exhibition and display, materials and techniques of art-making, and curatorial practice.
With LACMA serving as an extension of the classroom, students will gain intellectual and practical knowledge of the multiple ways in which art history can be produced.
Kwon said that the new curriculum not only helps students explore new areas of study within art history, but also better prepares them for professional careers in the field. Of the doctoral graduates who pursue careers in museums today, many have emerged from East Coast programs at institutions such as New York University, which partners with museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This grant is one of a series made by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation over the past two and a half years in support of graduates in art history that aim to integrate exposure to object-based study and curatorial practice more fully into their curricula. Most of these grants have been made to paired museums and universities, and involve
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