All college students dream about securing a paid position in their career field as soon as possible postgraduation. Jaelynn Walls, 21, saw her dreams come true even earlier when the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) offered her the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellowship in July 2019.
“Working in a museum in the curatorial department very directly relates to my studies,” Walls said. “I am in class learning about these artworks … then I’m applying them in real life.”
Perks of the job
As a senior art history major with a minor in African American studies, Walls hopes to eventually become a curator of a museum. She couldn’t be anymore well suited for a fellowship in the Prints and Drawings Department.
The position has presented Walls with many opportunities to network and beef up her resumé for the professional world. The job puts them in rooms with well-known artists and “so many incredible museum professionals,” said Walls.
“Before COVID, I was able to go on artist visits with my boss,” Walls said. “I [met] new artists from all over Houston.”
An unexpected adventure
Like most great adventures, this position came when Walls wasn’t expecting it. She applied for the Summer Academy at the MFAH, and she spent a week at the museum in May 2019.
At the end of the week, participants could then apply for the curatorial fellowship. Walls was one of two applicants that was accepted for the 2019-2021 program.
“The Mellon fellowship sort of dropped in my lap because people recognized that this was something that I was good at,” Walls said.
Walls hasn’t always had her sights set on the museum world. She originally saw herself as a writer/ filmmaker.
“If you had asked me in high school I would’ve said … ‘I write scripts. I write plays. I want to see my words up on the big screen,’” Walls said.
However, her path shifted when she got a job with the Contemporary Arts Museum as a blogger in high school. She started off as a writer, “but then [she] really fell in love with the museum world.”
Walls newfound love of curation led her to even more opportunities to work with artwork she appreciates. Her resumé includes community engagement and education at the Contemporary Arts Museum and a summer job at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling in Harlem
A day in the life
Now, Walls is doing the curatorial work that she has always dreamed of. For the past year, she has been curating a gallery that focuses on modern interpretations of Greek mythology.
“I’m looking at modern artists who are utilizing narratives from classical mythology to deal with their contemporary issues,” Walls said.
Her typical workday includes a lot of research and communication with her boss to bring artwork to the masses.
“My favorite part of art history is how people relate to works,” Walls said.
Now, she can experience the feeling of the public reacting to an exhibit firsthand knowing that she was the one who wrote the labels, descriptions and contacted the artists.
The pandemic has altered her workday like the rest of the world. Her new daily routine is composed of checking emails, class and Zoom meetings with her boss.
In response to social distancing rules, Walls has had the chance to curate an online exhibition titled “Women at Work” for a Google Arts and Culture project.
“People can click through and read labels I’ve written about the artwork,” Walls said.
Just getting started
When asked about what she does in her free time, she plugged her Youtube channel Art in Color.
“My channel focuses on artists of color and introducing people to artists they may have never heard of before,” Walls said.
Although Walls is just at the beginning of her museum career, it’s only up from here.
“This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” Walls said.
Photo courtesy of Jaelynn Walls