For the stereotype-busting "Black Histories, Black Futures" exhibition, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston handed over the keys to a group of students of color.
Armani Rivas, a junior at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, had never been to the MFA before. Now he's one of the teenage curators hand-picked provocative works of art for "Black Histories, Black Futures," challenging stereotypes and celebrating African-American history in an exhibit the museum has described as "a centerpiece of its yearlong 150th celebration."
The idea for the paid internships that led to the exhibit were conceived in 2017 and was developed as part of planning for the museum's 150th anniversary celebration, according to the museum.
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The internships also came in the wake of a May 2019 incident when a group of Davis Leadership Academy students said they were racially targeted there on a field trip.
The museum apologized, banned two patrons and committed to ongoing staff training.
"It feels really good to be that voice that kind of just changes the narrative in an institution like this," said Jennifer Rosa, a senior at John D. O'Bryant.
The students didn't have a background in art but were trained in curation for the exhibit, even writing the captions that accompany the pieces.
"I feel joy every time I see people walking through, to see their reaction and smile enjoying the labels that I wrote," said Jadon Smith, another John D. O'Bryant junior.
(Other students involved were from Wellesley High School, Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion School and The English High School.)
Among the work the museum has done since last year's incident is implicit bias training, designed to reveal the ways people might unconsciously discriminate, and how to improve customer service, said Makeeba McCreary, chief of learning and community engagement at the museum.
"This traditionally has been a space where young people don’t see themselves. They don't see themselves on the walls. We changed that," McCreary said.
The exhibit runs through June 2021.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said the internships came in response to the May 2019 incident. The museum says planning for the internships began in 2017.