Albany State awarded NEH grant to fund new museum and heritage studies program
ALBANY – The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded Albany State University (ASU) approximately $99,000 to assist with establishing an interdisciplinary museum and heritage studies minor at the university.
The NEH Humanities Initiatives at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) aims to advance the teaching and study of humanities in areas such as literature, history and philosophy at HBCUs. The project is led by Charles Williams, ASU professor of visual arts in the College of Arts and Humanities. Williams also serves as gallery director for the Department of Visual and Performing Arts and on the board of trustees at the Albany Museum of Art.
While Williams envisions the minor as a 15-credit-hour path that includes internships and one cross-disciplinary course, such as business, education, history or computer science, he said that the program development will be a group effort.
“As director of the grant, I am organizing cross-training seminars that will include faculty, who want to contribute by developing curriculum or offering their expertise, and local cultural organizations, who will provide input into how such a program can suit their needs,” Williams said. “The seminars will also include guest participants who work in museums and museum-related fields.”
The seminars will serve as professional development opportunities. ASU educators will assess the needs of the cultural organizations and train to develop relevant coursework. Each seminar will consist of a presentation by the director of the facility, a tour, a presentation by the guest participants and an interactive work session.
“The experience could very well open up new areas of research for faculty members and students,” Williams said. “The seminars will be open to the staffs and trustees of all of the institutions, as well as any other faculty members who wish to participate.”
Anticipated partner organizations include the Albany Museum of Art, the Albany Civil Rights Institute, Thronateeska Heritage Center, the Albany Area Arts Council, and the Flint RiverQuarium. The first of eight seminars will be held at the Albany Museum of Art on March 31 and serve as an introduction to museum studies and museum operations. Following seminars will discuss cultural preservation through artifacts, cultural narratives, and a design for the project as it enters its second year.
Part of the motivation for the grant is the national trend to diversify museum fields. According to the International Review of African American Art, the racial breakdown of museum occupations is 84 percent white. Additionally, of the remaining 16 percent, only 4 percent of those positions are held by African Americans.
The ASU minor will address diversity in various aspects, including ethnicity, socio-economic status and geographic location.
“Even students who do not pursue a career in museums can benefit from the experience,” Williams said. “A student may work with databases, fundraising strategies, creating exhibition materials or other marketable skill sets. The preservation of objects and narratives that are part of the fabric of our overall cultural history is a perennial endeavor that will always employ people.”