In January of this year, the Fairfield University Art Museum was looking to post and celebrate the work of a Black artist in honor of Black History Month.
Yet, an email chain between colleagues quickly turned into a conversation on why the museum, with 1,700 objects in its permanent collection, did not have the work of any Black artists.
This conversation turned into action, and now the museum is creating a fund “dedicated solely to the acquisition of contemporary art by Black artists for the permanent collection,” as stated in the press release.
Though the museum will put in $20,000 towards the initiative, this year’s goal is to raise $40,000 in additional funds.
Carey Weber, the Frank and Clara Meditz Executive Director of the Museum, stated, “We decided we had to stop accepting our limitations [similar to the lack of the acquisitions budget] and focus on a fundraising effort that would give us the ability to make a positive change.”
The press release reiterates this point by stating that the museum is committing to “Proactively making a change for greater representation and recognition of diverse artists and artwork.”
Though the museum has taken steps in this direction in recent years by giving their special exhibitions to marginalized groups within the Art world, they wanted to take a step further and fix the lack of diversity in their permanent collection.
“The permanent collection is the part of the museum that’s always available for faculty and students. It’s really at the core of our mission, and it’s important that it reflect the lived experience of the diverse communities that the museum serves,” Weber adds.
Part of this reflection comes with including students in the conversation and allowing all of those in the Fall 2021, The Black Experience: African-American Art and Criticism in the 20th and 21st Centuries course to play an active role in the museum’s decisions regarding which pieces to purchase.
“We’re looking forward to inviting students enrolled in the Art History survey course on Black art in America to give their feedback on potential acquisitions!” Weber states, continuing with, “As an academic art museum, Fairfield’s students, faculty and staff are the core community that we serve. We want to give Fairfield students a voice in these acquisitions.”
Yet, as is always the case when it comes to purchasing artwork, fundraising needs to be done and quickly if the first piece purchased occurs in December of 2021.
“We are trying to publicize the fund as best we can, both on and off-campus,” Weber said. “The Advancement department has shared this new fund and initiative with all of their fundraisers so that they can introduce it to prospects who they think might be interested in donating funds or artworks. We will also be sharing it with the entire museum community and mailing list through email communications.”
When asked if the University community has been supportive of this initiative, Weber replies that despite the fact that this is a relatively new project, they have already received three gifts totaling just over $5000.
This leads her to be quite excited about the support from the university administration, faculty and staff.
What’s most important about this step forward is the hope that this will make the collection “more broadly representative of our students and our community,” as Weber says.
“Everyone who walks into FUAM should feel that the museum is a welcoming space, that it is for them. That it reflects at least some aspect of their culture, traditions and identity,” she states.
Continuing honestly, “Frankly, as a white woman of European descent, I have never been in the position of feeling unwelcome or unrepresented in a museum, but I have listened to the voices of those who have, including quite a few Fairfield alumni. It’s not acceptable. It must change. And this is our small step in making that change in our own collection.”
If you have any questions regarding this initiative, reach out to Carey Weber: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in taking the course The Black Experience: African-American Art and Criticism in the 20th and 21st Centuries, it will be offered in the Fall on Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.