Tyree Boyd-Pates is the Curator of History and Program Manager at the California African-American Museum. He is also a professor, writer and speaker who uses journalism, social media and education to research and present histories of Black culture from a millennial perspective. His work is buttressed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and African-American Studies from California State Bakersfield and a Master’s Degree in Pan-African Studies from Temple University. He offers some insight into his journey as a curator, the importance of mentorship, and the role of the museum curator in 2019.
You are the Curator of History for the California African-American Museum. Can you talk a bit about your journey to becoming a curator?
My journey to becoming a curator is one that started since childhood. Ever since I was a boy, my grandmother brought me to the California African-American Museum to expose me to black history and culture. Not knowing that those experiences would lead to such a transformative adulthood, I ultimately found my self driven to expound on the beauty in the breadth of blackness in this hemisphere. After graduating from Temple University with my Master’s Degree in African-American studies, I sought to find a professional career that allowed me to bridge the world of academia and the general public. Having taught at the university level at Cal State Dominguez Hills in the Department of African-American studies, I was privy to an opportunity to join the California African-American Museum in a full-time capacity. After interviewing I soon joined the staff and was exposed to how to present the black experience in the west and in a historical fashion. My life has never been the same!
What are the steps in curating an exhibition? How do you decide what to include?
My process for curating an exhibition is one that is extremely intentional. It first begins with the ideation of the idea and a general thesis. Secondly, is the aggregation and delving into scholarly research. Thirdly, is the exploration of objects, whether they’re in my permanent collection at the museum, or if there is a repository or archive that houses items that are directly correlated with the information. Fourthly, is the writing and synthesizing of the information for didactics. Fifth-wise is working with the exhibition supervisor at the museum to begin the design of the space, whether big or small. Then six, is the installation. Then seven, is the opening. I select items that I feel are best in presentation, are tactile and will make the experience for the patron the most enjoyable and the most engaging. All of my exhibitions are sought to be as immersive as possible and they are meant to create experiences that will be very difficult to forget. All in all, my exhibitions continue to stand out and present blackness in profound and historical ways.
You describe heritage and personal narrative as being of great importance to you. How do you approach curating the art, history and culture of a community you are part of? What are some challenges of this? What are the most rewarding aspects?
I approach the curation of art and history and culture to be one of the most vital in my personal practice. Considering that I am a part of the very community that I curate for, I have an extreme sensitivity to how my exhibits reflects my community – authentically and honestly. The challenges that arise in doing this is telling the truth about subject matters that are often traumatic and painful. However, by exposing these truths I am able to make an indelible mark on individuals that I am in community with and assist in creating a more informed democracy for every patron that walks through the museum’s doors.
What is the role of the museum curator? Do you think it has changed over time? If so, what does the work of curation look like in 2019?
The only people who have ownership of the content are the original manufacturers thereof.
Curators are merely just stewards, presenters and amplifiers. Nothing more, nothing less.
Who are some of your favourite curators, both past and present?
How important has mentorship been in your journey to becoming a curator?
Extremely important. Without the leadership and mentorship of people like Naima Keith I would not be where I am today.
You recently posted an image of yourself with your 7-year-old mentee. How do you navigate the process of mentoring young people with curatorial aspirations?
It’s based on interest and access. I just want to show the youth that they can do it too. I first encourage them to volunteer at their local museums. Then, I tell them to consider pursuing graduate school. Then finding a mentor who can vouch for them when the time comes. All of which will make them marketable when it comes time to join the marketplace.