To increase the number of indigenous curators in Native American art, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has funded a full-time, year-long fellowship at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for 2020-2021.

The SMSC has funded a part-time fellowship opportunity for years, but this is the inaugural year of the full-time Native American fellowship.

“What we’re trying to do at MIA is offer immersive experiences for Native American people interested in curation to eventually become curators in the field,” said Associate Curator of Native American Art at MIA Jill Ahlberg Yohe.

Instead of the fellowship being project focused, fellows shadow Ahlberg Yohe directly and gain hands-on experience “in every aspect of the curatorial process,” she said. Fellows may help with the creation of a specific exhibition, the installation of galleries, get involved in community outreach and more.

MIA has over 90,000 artworks from six different countries spanning 5,000 years, its website states. And with more than 300 employees and many different divisions and departments, MIA provides a well-rounded experience to its fellows.

Each day at MIA is different “to allow the fellow to see the range of jobs and the range of responsibilities that we have in an encyclopedic museum — we steward the collection, we acquire objects, we work with community members, we do scholarship, we create large exhibitions and small exhibitions, we work on inner permanent galleries and that’s just to name a few,” Ahlberg Yohe said.

The year-long opportunity prepares fellows to move directly into assistant curatorial positions, she said, and previous fellows have gone on to work at other museums throughout the country.

Indigenous presence

Dozens of applications from all over the United States are typically received for the fellowship and the deadline for the upcoming year closed on Aug. 10. Applicants will be interviewed and the first full-time fellow will be chosen this fall.

Overall, the fellowship helps to grow indigenous presence in museums, a goal of MIA and SMSC.

“The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has supported this fellowship program at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for more than 15 years, and we look forward to it expanding into a full-time program this year,” said SMSC Chairman Keith Anderson. “We hope this fellowship will provide a good opportunity for up-and-coming arts professionals and encourage more Indigenous curators in this field.”

MIA is grateful to have the SMSC sponsor the fellowship each year, Ahlberg Yohe said.

“These fellows teach us as much as we provide a place of learning for them. And that’s really important for all institutions and I’m really proud that MIA is a part of that learning circle,” she added.

While museums have collected and displayed Native American art throughout time, Native Americans have not always been involved in the curation and discussion of the artwork, Ahlberg Yohe said.

“I think that that is extremely important, for indigenous voices to be heard and prioritized… One thing I think about with the fellowship is how does indigenous art intersect with American art, because indigenous art is American art and you can’t tell the story of American art without understanding indigenous art,” she said.

There are new perspectives and a better understanding of oneself to be gained from viewing Native American artwork, Ahlberg Yohe added.

“We have in America this sense of amnesia of Native people. Native people have always been here and always will be here and it’s important to recognize the contributions of indigenous people and recognition that we are on Indigenous land right now and the more that you arrive at the understanding that we, all of us as Americans, no matter where we are in America right now we are on Indigenous land… the more that we can integrate that into our daily understanding of where we are as people,” she said.

The current collection of Native American Art at MIA features artwork representative of hundreds of different Indigenous communities throughout the Americas. Since the start of Ahlberg Yohe’s tenure, she has worked to include Native American art into many other spaces and programs within the Mia.

Native American Artist Julie Buffalohead’s work “Storytelling” is currently on display at MIA. Buffalohead is a member of the Ponca tribe of Oklahoma and lives in St. Paul.

The museum is open to the public at a limited capacity. General admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in-person, in advance by visiting https://new.artsmia.org/ or by calling 612-870-3000. Various exhibitions and artwork, including “Storytelling: Julie Buffalohead” can also be viewed on the MIA website.

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