In the fall of 2016, the Art Department, The Fralin Museum of Art, and the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection welcomed to UVA two new Curators of Indigenous Arts, Adriana Greci Green (based at The Fralin) and Henry F. Skerritt (based at Kluge-Ruhe). The curators are the core of the Mellon Indigenous Arts Program, a multi-year initiative funded by an award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences and the Provost’s office.
Adriana Greci Green lecturing at Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists, at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC. The large painting is by Daphne Odjig (Odawa/Potawatomi 1919-2016), From Mother Earth Flows the River of Life, 1973. (photo: Sarah Althoff)
Adriana’s and Henry’s work has spotlighted Indigenous arts at UVA like never before. They have curated exhibitions at the UVA museums and beyond, including a city-wide celebration of Australian Indigenous arts in January 2020, with coordinated exhibitions and public events across five Charlottesville locations. They have taught classes each semester in the Indigenous arts of North America and Australia; mentored student interns at the UVA museums; presented many public talks; and helped organize visiting residencies and symposia featuring artists, scholars, and curators who are leaders in the field of Indigenous arts.
One aim of the grant is to make UVA a center of excellence for research and teaching in Indigenous arts, which we hope will help spur establishment of a long-overdue Indigenous Studies program at UVA. In addition to supporting the curators’ work, the grant offered fellowships to 12 UVA faculty members across 9 disciplines to help them develop research and new courses in Indigenous arts, and hosted 13 Indigenous visiting artists for residencies at UVA.
Mellon Summer Curatorial Program students learning from Yolngu visiting artist Lucy Wanapuyngu at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in 2019. (photo: Cassie Davies)
Enhancing students’ experiential learning is at the forefront of the grant’s programming. The Mellon Museum Internship Program so far has supported 52 internships for UVA students on Grounds and on projects as far away as Australia and Greece. The grant also piloted an innovative summer-long curatorial program for visiting undergraduates. One of the invaluable features of the grant, says Adriana, is that students can interact directly with visiting Indigenous artists and scholars, who offer viewpoints and experiences that students might not otherwise encounter.
When asked about her internship experience, Callie Collins (Col 2020) said that it “completely transformed my worldview and my understanding of myself and my position in the world.” Her curatorial internship at Kluge-Ruhe blossomed into a summer internship at the Milingimbi Art and Culture Center after she met Indigenous artists from Milingimbi Island during their residency at Kluge-Ruhe. She then interned for a second year at Kluge-Ruhe, and traveled to Australia for a second summer. She notes that the Mellon program gave her “phenomenal opportunities to research [Kluge-Ruhe’s] world-class collection, work with the exceptional team planning and executing exhibitions and events, learn from and collaborate with incredible Indigenous artists and senior knowledge-holders, and travel 10,000 miles to walk on and learn further from the country to which they are traditional custodians.”
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