This is the third of a series of weekly profiles on Bearden Fellows here at Black Art In America. The Romare Bearden Graduate Museum Fellowship at the Saint Louis Art Museum is nationally renowned as one of the oldest and most robust museum programs in the country dedicated to increasing diversity among professional staff in the museum field. For more information on the Bearden Fellowship, go to slam.org.
“Art is essential because it’s a mirror that reflects what our society values at any given time. As a visual expression of history and culture, art can be utilized to foster creative and critical thinking.” – Sherri Williams
For Sherri Williams, art was never the plan. “I’m not nor have I ever been very artistic,” reveals Williams, noting “by that, I mean I don’t engage in outward displays of artistic expression. I can’t draw, paint, dance, or play an instrument.” Growing up, she explains, “I wasn’t interested in the physical act of artistic expression, but I’ve always had an appreciation for the arts and for artists. I enjoyed dance as a spectator, especially ballet, and loved music—everything from rap to classical to country. And within my family film and literature were important, especially works that offered critical commentary on Black life and culture in America.”
Years later, upon receiving a Masters in African Studies, Williams was presented with a choice. “As I approached the end of my graduate studies, I began to think about my career in earnest,” she recalls. “I needed to decide between pursuing a Ph.D. and an eventual professorship, or gainful employment. I was seriously invested in opportunities that would allow for the practical application of the skills and knowledge gained through my education,” says Williams. “That’s when I began researching museums.”
Her research paid off. Today, Williams is the manager of community programs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In this role, she is responsible for helping the gallery’s education team define and shape its community engagement efforts. Prior to her position at the National Gallery, Williams worked for the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) as the associate educator for Youth and Family programs, and in Adult Learning.
For her ultimate choice to embrace art, Williams was named a Romare Bearden Graduate Fellow at the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2009.
“The fellowship has been hugely influential in guiding my career,” acknowledges Williams. “When I started, I had no clue what I wanted to do in museums and, by the end of my year at the Saint Louis Art Museum, I was sure I wanted a career in museum education. After my fellowship, I worked at SLAM in the learning and engagement department for several years before moving on to my current position at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.” The fellowship, clarifies Williams, “laid the foundation for what has been a successful career in museum education.”
Her success in the field has wholly enhanced her appreciation for the power and global impact of art, particularly in our contemporary era. “Visual art is a powerful form of mass communication,” promotes Williams, noting that through “the internet, cell phones, and the popularity of apps like Instagram, art is more accessible now than it’s ever been. A work of art can be shared and consumed by millions of viewers the world over. Its visual message can foster a global exchange of ideas or, as we’ve seen in the last few months, can spark a universal call to action.”
In this way, adds Williams, “art helps us see our shared humanity and builds bridges where there were once barriers.”
Advancing Change: The Future of Museum Leadership
Virtual Summit on Diversity — link to register : https://bit.ly/31Ph8yJ