When she arrived at Loyola Marymount University, Alexandra Henry ’18 wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. But that changed quickly – with the help of her First Year Seminar on museum studies and a unique summer opportunity at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Each first-year student at LMU takes a First Year Seminar to hone college-level writing and analysis skills. Henry’s seminar, “Museums: Race, Power, and Identity,” studied cultural critiques of museums, especially museums’ representations of race, ethnicity, gender, identity, and citizenship. Henry reports that the course opened her eyes to the politics of museums and the stories they tell.
“The main thing I got out of the class was an appreciation for all cultures and how they are represented,” she explains. “It was really interesting going into museums…and saying, ‘Okay, this represents a culture fairly…or this doesn’t accurately portray it.'”
With some mentoring from her professor, Karen Mary Davalos, professor of Chicana/o studies, Henry applied for a competitive spot in LACMA’s Mellon Summer Academy, a weeklong program to introduce students of color to museum professions. In the program, she met various museum professionals, from conservators to executives. “It’s really eye-opening…because you just think, there’s only one job in a museum,” she says, “but there are really a lot.” She captured a glimpse into the diverse activities in the daily life of a museum, like handling damaged art and preserving pieces.
In addition to meeting the museum staff, she and other students in the Summer Academy built a model exhibit. “Each day, we were given a specific packet of objects and…we had to pick and choose objects and coordinate our own exhibit,” Henry explains. “That was really cool.” She and her teammates researched carefully to be sure that their displays were not just visually appealing, but also accurate and culturally appropriate.
Now an Art History and English double major, Henry credits her discernment to the mentorship she received starting her first day on campus. “Professor Davalos has been really supportive with me trying to find what I really, really do enjoy,” she explains. “I didn’t see it in me until after the summer program, but I think she saw it in me, [that] this kid was going to enjoy working in a museum.”
After graduating, Henry hopes to work in the museum field as a curator or researcher.