THE SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM (SLAM) named Shaka Myrick and Delyn Stephenson Romare Bearden Fellows and announced the institution is doubling the capacity of the program.

The Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellowship is dedicated to diversifying the museum field. African Americans and people of color have historically been underrepresented on museum staffs. Founded in 1991, the Bearden program is one of the oldest initiatives established to address the problem.

 


New Bearden Fellows: From left, Shaka Myrick and Delyn Stephenson. | Courtesy SLAM

 

“Put in sort of stark data terms, African Americans, in particular, are underrepresented in the professional ranks of most art museums. The barriers to entry in these jobs are quite high. You are talking about a very, very small pool of people. I think fellowships and internships become a very important thing in regard to beginning to address what I think I would characterize as a pipeline issue,” Saint Louis Art Museum Director Brent Benjamin said in a video about the fellowship.

“It’s sort of a weird conundrum, because even though you don’t have a huge pool of qualified applicants, you also don’t have places where people can actually go to get a foot in the door. This is where I think the Bearden has been so valuable because it gives underrepresented candidates an opportunity to get a foot in the door.”

“The barriers to entry in these jobs are quite high. You are talking about a very, very small pool of people. I think fellowships and internships become a very important thing in regard to beginning to address what I think I would characterize as a pipeline issue.”
— Saint Louis Art Museum Director Brent Benjamin

After 30 years, the museum’s board of trustees decided to expand the Bearden program from a one-year paid fellowship for one fellow to a two-year paid fellowship supporting two fellows.

The final one-year fellow, Stephenson (2021-22) received a bachelor’s degree in art history and archaeology at the University of Missouri in Columbia and a master’s degree in history through the Museums, Public History, and Heritage program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis (UMSL). Her museum experience includes UMSL’s Griot Museum of Black History, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, where she was appointed assistant director in May 2020.

Myrick is the inaugural two-year fellow (2021-23). After earning a bachelor’s degree in painting from the University of Missouri in Columbia, over the next decade she worked and interned at several arts institutions, including NYCH Art Gallery in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, both in Kansas City, Mo.

Recently, Myrick completed a master’s degree in art history at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC), with a concentration on West African culture and presence in Brazil (2021). Last fall, she co-curated “Real Black: A Spectrum of the Black Present” at UMKC Gallery of Art. Featuring 11 Kansas City artists, the exhibition was the first-ever presentation at the gallery focused exclusively on Black artists.

A CROSS-DEPARTMENTAL training program, the Romare Bearden Fellowship provides hands-on working experience throughout the museum, tailored to the interests of participants. “The ultimate goal is to empower them so that they can see themselves as a museum leader,” said Renée Franklin, SLAM’s new chief diversity officer.

The fellowship was established with a gift from St. Louis philanthropists Adelaide and Daniel Schlafly. Today, it is supported in part by their donation, with significant supplemental funding from the museum. Over the course of three decades, as of 2020, 27 Bearden Fellows have participated in the program, with positive results, apparently. According to SLAM, 90 percent of former fellows are “still actively working in prominent positions across the arts and cultural field.”

A trustee of the museum, Colin Frost believes it’s important that SLAM reflects the community, in terms of the art, as well as the administration, curators and other staff, particularly since the museum relies on public funds.

“I thought there’s a great opportunity here to build on the initial funding that the Schlafly family contributed and work to create an endowment to ensure that the museum doesn’t have to utilize unrestricted funds to ensure that this position (the fellowship) moves forward,” he said.

The Frost family established the Romare Bearden Fellowship Endowment with a $100,000 gift, helping to partially fund the program’s expansion. Hoping to encourage support from others, the family has issued a challenge, offering to match donations, dollar-for-dollar, up to an additional $100,000, through Dec. 31, 2021. CT

 

FIND MORE about art museum diversity on Culture Type

 

FIND MORE The Saint Louis Art Museum appointed a new director. Min Jung Kim is the first woman and first person of color to lead the museum, in the wake of the retirement of Brent Benjamin

 


The importance of the Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellowship is discussed by Brent Benjamin, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum; Chief Diversity Officer Renée Franklin; and Colin Frost, a member of the board of trustees, who established Romare Bearden Fellowship Endowment. | Video by SLAM

 

BOOKSHELF
A solo exhibition dedicated to Oliver Lee Jackson is currently on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum. A brochure accompanies the exhibition. The exhibition catalog “The Shape of Abstraction: Selections from the Ollie Collection” documents the collection of African American patrons Ronald and Monique Ollie. In 2017, the Ollies gave the Saint Louis Art Museum a collection of 81 abstract works by Black artists.

 

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