In 2009, Weisman Art Museum (WAM) established the E. Gerald and Lisa O’Brien Curatorial Fellowship. For over twelve years, the O’Brien Fellowship has been launching curatorial careers by enabling recent graduates to achieve their first paid curatorial museum staff position, as they consider continuing toward an advanced degree. Art history majors from across the country are encouraged to apply, especially those who studied at University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, Rice University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Maryland.
Thanks to the O’Briens’ generosity, fellows are given a $25,000 stipend and work in the museum for one year, typically assisting WAM senior curator Diane Mullin, and, most valuably, curating an exhibition on their own. It’s a win-win, benefitting both the Weisman and the fellows: the fellowship extends the research and curatorial capacity at WAM and offers emerging curators in-depth experience working in the museum field, along with professional mentorship at a critical point in their education and career.
Former O’Brien fellow Laura Joseph (Ph.D. ’15) agrees. She was finishing her doctorate in art history at the University of Minnesota and was looking for additional fieldwork experience when she began her O’Brien fellowship in 2014. “WAM staff allows fellows into the fold, meaning you’re not in the back room sorting through files,” she says. The stipend helped, too. “We don’t often like to talk about money in the arts,” Joseph says, “but regardless of whether or not you love something, your work needs to sustain you. The fellowship places a value on the work you do.” Laura Joseph is now Curator of Exhibitions for the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, MN; she also served as the guest curator for the 2020 WAM exhibition, Harriet Bart: Abracadabra, and Other Forms of Protection.
The Weisman is so pleased provide a home for this meaningful student opportunity, and grateful for the O’Brien family’s generosity, which makes this on-the-job experience for emerging curators possible.
Read More about previous years’ O’Brien Curatorial Fellows
Read more about each of the emerging curators who’ve benefited from the O’Brien Fellowship, for twelve years and counting, on the fellowship website: www.obrienfellowship.org.
On view June 3 – November 6, 2022: Capturing Change: The Urban Images of Berenice Abbott and Giovanni Battista Piranesi
This exhibition, curated by 2018-19 Fellow Ben Weil, features realist photographs taken by Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) and intricate etchings produced by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), both of which document cities in periods of change. Although separated by time and choice of medium, these artists are united by their goals of documenting urban transformations and preserving the history of their cities through art. Learning Outcomes; Present an historical consideration of the birth and growth of cities to contextualize urban issues of today. Highlight two separate print media known for documentary work: etching and photography.
Ben Weil is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University where he studies medieval Italian art with an emphasis on representations of cities and civic identity. He was an O’Brien Curatorial Fellow at the Weisman Art Museum in 2018–19, and he contributed to several exhibitions, including The Persistence of Mingei: Four Generations of Ceramic Artists and B.J.O. Nordfeldt: American Internationalist. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Art History and International Studies in 2018.