February 11, 2021 | By Leah Kolb | Back to blog

Happy February! Despite the fact that it is currently negative 11 degrees outside, I am very grateful to be in Madison as a graduate student in the Bolz Center’s Arts and Creative Enterprise Leadership program. In addition to being in school, I am also the Curator of Exhibitions at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA). At MMoCA, I continuously strive to diversify the museum’s exhibition programming by curating shows that platform female artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists of color who offer alternative perspectives to dominant narratives. I am a strong believer in the role art can play in empowering individuals and communities, and in fostering dialogues that can lead to moments of genuine human connection and understanding. My interest in pursuing a degree in Arts Leadership is tied to my deep desire to support more ambitious and far-reaching arts-based projects that effectuate sustained and meaningful social change. With its focus on leadership development, practical business acumen, experiential learning, and relationship building, the MA-ACE through the Bolz Center stood out as the ideal academic program.

Over the past several months, the Bolz curriculum, instructors, guest speakers, and my fellow classmates have been invaluable resources as I navigate the challenges and new possibilities museum professionals face in the midst of the widespread upheavals brought about by the last year. The pandemic-related “Great Pause” (coined by the inimitable Sarah Marty) has given arts leaders the space to really question what museums can and should be doing for their communities and for the artists with whom they work. In my mind, this means rethinking how we dedicate resources (time, talent, treasure) in order to facilitate innovative opportunities for both the artists and audiences—opportunities that have the potential for lasting impact. As such, I am intensely focusing my energy on how to build mutually beneficial partnerships with other organizations, an effort that has been guided by my experiences in the Bolz program.

For example, the program has helped me strategically navigate an upcoming exhibition I am working on with the artist Faisal Abdu’allah. When we first started conceptualizing the show a couple of years ago, Abdu’Allah and I knew we wanted to think beyond the more traditional exhibition model. We wanted to leverage his show both to push his practice forward and to engage with people who don’t often see themselves represented in arts institutions. Through a series of incredible partnerships, we have set several projects in motion that speak to both goals.

Our most ambitious and complex project is the fabrication of a “counter-monument” that addresses the importance of cultural representation by the recontextualizing the images we associate with race, class, and power. Thanks to an extremely generous partnership with Quarra Stone, Abdu’Allah is working with the company to bring his vision to life. Institutional support from MMoCA has turned this project into an official commission, which means the museum will purchase the work from Abdu’Allah once it is complete and accession it into the permanent collection. We are also working with Findorff on the logistics of transporting the monument to MMoCA and installing it, and with the City of Madison for permission to install it on State Street, in front of MMoCA. I have been in touch with the Wisconsin Historical Society to investigate possibilities for collaborative programming on a local level and the Monument Lab (in Philadelphia) to discuss how to engage—on a national level—in responsible but necessary conversations surrounding the role of monuments in public spaces. What does it mean to memorialize a person? Who gets to be commemorated? Whose story is told, and by whom?

To a large extent, I credit the Bolz Center for how this project has evolved. The program has provided the foundational structure for understanding how to balance the creative vision of the artist with business and governmental realities, forging partnerships between non-profit and for-profit industries, and broadening the scope of the conversations art can generate. I am grateful to be a part of the Bolz Center and look forward to continuing to learn as the year progresses.