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Decolonizing Museums, Repatriating Collections

The modern museum is a product of colonial Western cultures. Contemporary museums are reckoning with practices that are less than equitable, and facing calls to return, share, and rethink collections. The Grinnell College Museum of Art is not immune to these significant shifts in museum practice. In this pre-recorded talk, I focused on our small Native American and African art collections, using them as case studies of the kinds of questions museums need to ask, and exploring some of the ways a reexamination can improve museums for the 21st century.

Faculty Member: Lesley Wright
Discussion Date: April 14, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. CT or April 15, 2021 at 1 p.m. CT

Meet Director Wright

Lesley Wright has been director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art since May 1999. She oversees the staff, policies and exhibition schedule for both the Museum of Art and the Print and Drawing Study Room. She currently supervises a staff of eight, and a student staff of gallery desk attendants, program assistants and interns. She reports to the Vice-President for Academic Affairs and convenes the semiannual meetings of the Museum’s Leadership Council.

Wright has a Ph.D. in American art history from Stanford University, where she worked with Wanda Corn. Her dissertation, "Men Making Meaning in Nineteenth-Century American Genre Painting, 1860-1900," explored sentimental scenes of daily life within the context of the men who painted them and the people who collected them. She has since written entries on American genre paintings for several collection catalogues, but otherwise has turned her focus to 20th-century, 21st-century and contemporary art.

Before coming to Grinnell College, Wright was the curator at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art for 6 years, where she curated over 20 major exhibitions and numerous smaller shows. She has taught courses in American and women's art history at Stanford University, San Francisco State, the University of Iowa, and Coe College. Her museum background includes work as the assistant to the director at the University Art Museum at UC Berkeley (now the Berkeley Art Museum) and a Luce Foundation internship at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. In 2008, she attended the Museum Leadership Institute at the Getty Center.

At the Museum of Art, she has curated a number of exhibitions, including the inaugural show, Re-Structure. In 2003, she curated two major exhibitions: Layers of Brazilian Art/Camadas da Arte Brasileira and Roots of Renewal, the former an exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art and the latter an exploration of new ways of looking at and conceptualizing the Midwest. In 2007, she curated Where are you from? Contemporary Portuguese Art with Jane Gilmor from Mount Mercy College, in 2009 she curated Below the Surface: a 21st-century Look at the Prairie, and in 2011 she curated Culturing Community: Projects about Place. With support from the National Science Foundation, she co-curated Making Life Visible: Art, Biology, and Visualization with the late Professor Jackie Brown in 2018. She has supported her projects with successful grants from Humanities Iowa, the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Portuguese government, and other national and local granting agencies.

In 2004 she was asked by the Art Department to inaugurate a course on museum studies, taught almost every year, to complement the department’s exhibition seminar. In 2012, she offered an interdisciplinary seminar that resulted in the student-curated, collection-based exhibition Animals Among Us. In Spring 2019, she co-taught Greek Architectural Sculpture: Style, Context, and Ownership with Professor Monessa Cummins; this course-embedded travel upper division course dug deep into questions of ownership of cultural material. The Museum offers internships each semester, in order to more fully bring the Museum and its operations into the curriculum of the College. In addition, the Museum offers other student positions in outreach, Museum security, administration, and the collection.

Wright serves on numerous committees on campus and in the community. She co-leads projects related to Grinnell College’s Smithsonian Affiliate status, including presenting Smithsonian exhibitions in the community. She is the Iowa representatives for the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, and is currently president of the board of the Association of Midwest Museums.

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Wednesday April 14
5:30 PM - 6:30 PM

If you are interested in joining the discussion with Lesley Wright, director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art, please only choose one of the dates.

Dates and Times:

  • April 14, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. CT
  • April 15, 2021 at 1 p.m. CT
Event registration summary
Virtual Alumni College - Decolonizing Museums, Repatriating Collections:
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