A Q&A With Plan II Honors Sophomore and Art History Major Jaelynn Walls

Friday, February 22, 2019

Jaelynn Walls is a Plan II honors sophomore and Art History major from Houston. As part of her internship at the Blanton Museum, she has created the educational video series, Art In Color, that highlights contemporary artists of color and their work. Jaelynn is also presenting her first solo curatorial work February 22-25 at the Austin-based gallery Big Medium with the show, One for Us, an exhibition featuring the work of a multitude of women of color from all parts of Texas. An opening reception will be held on Friday, February 22 from 7-10 PM.

Jaelynn Walls

When did your interest in art begin?    

When I was growing up, I went to the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) a lot. I think my parents just needed a place where they could let me go explore during the summers, so I would go and see new shows when they opened. I went to a science-focused high school, but I had a lot of friends that went to the performing and visual arts school and a lot of them were on the teen council for CAMH. They convinced me my sophomore year to apply and I got the position, and from there I was introduced to different artists and curators around Houston and even from around the U.S. Also, my senior year I took an art history class and my teacher, Mr. Parker, was very engaging and always so excited to talk about art, and it really made me want to learn more.

How did that develop into a focus on curation?

At the CAMH, the senior curator while I was there was Valerie Cassel Oliver. She did a lot of work to make the exhibits more diverse. They had an entire show on just black performance artists, and that was really interesting to see the different ways that art can manifest in these cultural institutions that are not necessarily related to antiquity or renaissance. Her curation really helped me develop a positive relationship with what a museum’s base can be.

How did your Art in Color series come about?

I have an internship at the Blanton Museum of Art in their education department and was tasked with coming up with my own independent project. Last year the intern that was in my position did a playwriting project that related to European art works so I wanted to do something related to education but also something that followed my interest of learning more about artists of color and contemporary art. I worked this summer at a museum in Harlem and I kept having to do research on all these artists of color and I couldn’t really find much information, and they’re alive and working. So there should be some information out there

about them but there’s not, or not in a central platform, at least. So, I decided to create Art in Color, which is a web series on YouTube where I highlight different artists of color in the contemporary collection at the Blanton.

Why is this series important?

I think there’s first the necessity of accessibility. It’s an online platform that’s completely public. Even though the Blanton has some free entry days, that’s not really the case with a lot of large cultural institutions, so to have something that is free where you can learn about the art in the same sort of way that you would if you were actually at the museum is very important to me. Anything that stifles your ability to connect with art should be avoided.

Also, I think museums in general can be seen as scary or elitist spaces, but with this web series I’m showing that there are artists of color that are in these spaces who are creating work about their own identities, their own experiences. I think it’s important to talk about the ways that contemporary artists in general are going about their practice because contemporary artists are talking about now. We should be able to explore their ideas and understand in a comprehensive, educational way what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to say, because a lot of contemporary artists are focused on social movements, political movements, personal identity and communicating with other people.

There are a limited number of contemporary artists of color in the Blanton’s collection, especially artists that are on display that I can point to and create a video for, so after my internship I hope to continue the web series in other museum spaces or galleries, maybe travel to San Francisco, New York, Chicago and see if they’re interested in having their museums featured or different works in their collections featured. I am also trying to study abroad for next fall so I don’t know how that’s going to work, maybe I’ll talk to some museums in London, I don’t know. Could be exciting stuff.

What’s been your experience creating the videos, and who’s your target audience?

The thing about making these videos, even though they’re only two minutes long, is that I have to do extensive research to make sure the condensed version has all the right information. I get such a deep understanding of them from making these videos and making the education tools that go along with them. It’s a really good way for me to learn more about the artists, but also to understand how people are writing about them and what could be taken away by someone who watches my videos. For example, there are a million and half things to say about Trenton Doyle Hancock because he has these crazy, adventurous comical works that have all these references and I just got so much info and you have to cut it down until you have the bare essentials of what would get someone’s attention while still educating them.

My target audience is probably grades 4-12, that’s one category. I also think it’s for adults who are just generally interested in learning something new or people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come to a museum. It’s not necessarily the artist lovers’ web series, I’m not using complex terms or trying to use art speak. I just want to explain in a simplistic way who these people are and what they’re trying to do and why it matters.

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