Alumna and Curator Allison Glenn Receives 2023 Arts Achievement Award

This fall, CFPCA is honoring Allison Glenn (BFA in Photography and BA in Urban Studies '05) an Arts Achievement Award for 2023, in celebration of her outstanding career achievements. Glenn is Senior Curator at New York's Public Art Fund. Her curatorial work focuses on the intersection of art and the public, through public art, biennials, special projects, and major new commissions by leading contemporary artists. Glenn was listed as one of the 2022 ArtNews Deciders and on the 2021 Observer Arts Power 50. She is one of the curators for the Counterpublic Triennial, opening April 2023 in St. Louis. Her groundbreaking exhibition Promise, Witness, Remembrance, at Speed Art Museum also in Louisville, KY, reflected on the life of Breonna Taylor and was selected by The New York Times as one of the Best Art Exhibitions of 2021.

View of "Promise, Witness, Remembrance," 2021, Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. Center: Amy Sherald, Breonna Taylor, 2020. Photo: Xavier Burrell.
View of "Promise, Witness, Remembrance," 2021, Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. Foreground, from left: Theaster Gates, Alls my life I has to fight, 2019; Terry Adkins, Muffled Drums (from Darkwater), 2003; Sam Gilliam, Carousel Form II, 1969. Photo: Bill Roughen.

Glenn has over a decade of professional curatorial experience, and previous roles include Associate Curator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, Manager of Publications and Curatorial Associate for Prospect New Orleans'' international art triennial: Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, and a Curatorial Fellowship with the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. She is a member of Madison Square Park Conservancy Public Art Consortium Collaboration Committee, and sits on the board of directors of ARCAthens, a Bronx, New York, and Athens, Greece-based artist residency.

Glenn received dual master's degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Modern Art History, Theory, and Criticism and Arts Administration and Policy in 2012. From WSU, she received a Bachelor of Fine Art Photography degree, with a co-major in Urban Studies. (WSU no longer offers this co-major. It was formerly offered through the College of Urban Labor and Metropolitan Affairs (CULMA), which was restructured in 2005.)

Odili Donald Odita
Negative Space, 2021
Commissioned as part of Color Field (June 2019), an outdoor sculpture exhibition in Crystal Bridges' North Forest.
George Sánchez-Calderón
Americana, 2014/2021
State of the Art 2020, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary
February 22-July 27, 2020
Collection of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

"Framing" Her Path To Public Art

The co-major in Urban Studies and Photography at WSU was pivotal for Glenn. She was introduced to the co-major program while taking an urban studies course. "When I think about my career trajectory, I often return to this moment," Glenn says. "We were reading books like The Origins of the Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue. We were walking around Detroit and looking at the city through this lens of history, but also taking in the contemporary moment. It was a different time in the city than it is today, and there were many different kinds of publics and audiences that engaged with that area around WSU, especially the Cass Corridor."

As an undergraduate student, Glenn spent a great deal of time taking in the city - the backdrop for her studies at WSU. "As a young creative person, I was using photography as a tool to "frame," wandering through the city, documenting, and understanding" she says. "I loved getting lost in the neighborhoods and lost on campus, and I loved the architecture. It really was one of the most important moments of my life."

Undergraduate Art History courses at WSU and the power of art to understand and share history, also helped shape Glenn's path. She remembers a survey class on Ancient Greek Art and History, where she wrote a research paper on an ancient coin from the island of Paphos in Greece. "In writing about the coin, I learned about history of this site through the artifact - the object - which pointed to a particular moment in time." She added, "I still have the book about it on my shelf. This experience was instrumental to me, because it showed me how I could combine my love of history and research with art."

In 2003, Glenn attended an exchange program with the University of Salford in Manchester, UK, a sister city to Detroit. The immersive experience provided her with a broader, international context of industrial and post-industrial cities. "There were many similarities in terms of the impact of industrialization on these cities - textiles in Manchester and the automotive industry in Detroit," she says. "It was an opportunity for young cultural thinkers and creative producers in Detroit to study a city that was a little bit farther along in its ways of thinking about the future of industrial sites. This was before terms like 'creative place making' and 'adaptive reuse' became a way to talk about the intersection of art, publics, and historical architecture. The experience changed the way that I looked at the world. It changed my understanding of Detroit, and when I returned, I became even more invested in the city."

When Glenn returned to Detroit, the creative energy in the city was changing and more was happening in the city. The 555 Art Gallery had moved from Ann Arbor to Detroit, and the 4731 Gallery and Art Building had opened across the street. She became very involved in the local art scene. Glenn rented studio space in 4731 with a fellow student in the photography BFA program, started a limited liability corporation, and finished her degree at WSU. She built her practice by curating shows, organizing exhibitions, writing for publications and magazines, and photographing musicians. She also organized exhibitions of student work at WSU to draw more attention to her talented colleagues in the Art Department. "There was a lot happening and a lot of opportunity for me to look at my career path more seriously," she says.

In 2007, Glenn moved to Chicago and lived there for almost a decade. Wanting to professionalize the work that she was doing in another way, she enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009, pursuing a dual master's degree in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism, and Arts Administration and Policy. "The Arts Administration and Policy really plugged into the undergraduate urban studies," she says. "I could see how I could work for the city as a city arts employee, I could work for a nonprofit, or run a nonprofit. And studying Art History really provided the theory that I needed to be successful."

What makes Glenn so successful is her strong sense of self-reflection combined with an openness to feedback. She is also not afraid to trust her intuition and her breadth of experience. "I think what makes me really good at what I do is that I question myself a lot, but I also trust my intuition," she says. "When it comes to right-brain thinking, you start to develop a cognitive sense of what feels right. I also try a lot of different things and I approach problems from many different angles. I also ask a lot of people for feedback. I would also say that a willingness to stop, rethink, and start again makes me good at what I do. Ultimately, when it clicks, you just know! It is like a muscle. The more you work it, the better you get."

Untitled by Lisa Alvarado
From In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street
Billboard exhibition in Chicago, June 6-July 20, 2016
Chlenov Street Do Not Park by Assaf Evron
From n the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street
Billboard exhibition in Chicago, June 6-July 20, 2016

Working at the Perfect Intersection

Today, Glenn sees her work in public art in cities as the perfect intersection of the BFA and Urban Studies. "The work that I am doing today is full circle for me," she says. "The co-major taught me to look at micro and macro levels when investigating a place. As I continue to work from a position of authenticity and intuition, my instincts become sharper. When ideas, concepts, or questions start to come to light, I lean into them."

Glenn's curatorial work for the Counterpublic Triennial in St. Louis, MO, is an example of this intersection. Counterpublic, which was founded in 2019, is a civic arts organization that has a mission of inclusivity, creative thinking, and community engagement. For this second edition, The artistic director of the triennial positioned 5 different curators in different sites around the city. Along with the artistic director, the curatorial ensemble is exploring the idea of residence time, described as "a term of measurement for how long one material remains in another, such as salt in earth, or blood in water, prior to repair." Through the sites, each curator considers history and memory, investigating ideas of repair, repatriation, and, ultimately, transformation.

Glenn's site for the Triennial is St. Louis Place, a historic neighborhood that she describes as reminiscent of Brush Park in Detroit, due to its ornate three-story buildings that are similar in architectural style to those once found in Brush Park. "Over time, the buildings and the neighborhood have shifted and changed," explains Glenn. "Now the area contains vast, open spaces. It is reflective of the entropy that is inherently built into every system."

St. Louis Place is about one mile from the former site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex which was designed by Minoru Yamasaki and built in 1954. The buildings were demolished in 1972 after steady decline. The neighborhood today is a source of introspection, due to the dynamic tensions at play, where government research coexists with Black history and activism. Glenn is leaning into these tensions in her analysis of the site, historically and into the future. "I have thought a lot about how, over time, different people projected their ideas of the possibilities for communities and publics in this place," says Glenn. "The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is relocating their main campus to this neighborhood, and the land where the campus will be located was taken by eminent domain. Across the street from that is the 25-year old Griot Museum of Black History, which is one of the only Black history museums in St. Louis. In West African culture The Griot is the person who is responsible for collecting and preserving history. The logo for the museum is the Adinkra symbol for Sankofa which means to 'go back and get'.

Considering the historic and present dynamics of St. Louis Place, Glenn invited architect Sir David Adjaye OBE to engage with the site. She sees a powerful thread connecting Adjaye's work to the mission of the Griot Museum. "David has been investigating the idea of home with his exhibit on rammed earth structures called Asaase, the Twi word for 'earth'." The structures are evocative of the architecture that resonated with Adjaye in his father's ancestral village in Accra, Ghana. "Since David is known for his buildings, but he is now working in sculpture, I thought it would be interesting to invite him to think about this site as it relates to the kind of investigation he's been making. This would also simultaneously connect the Griot Museum to a much larger network of museums like the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and Studio Museum in Harlem, breaking down hierarchies between different institutions."

This will be the first prominent public artwork by Adjaye, commissioned by Glenn for Counterpublic 2023 and donated by Counterpublic to the Griot Museum. Tying the project back to the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, Glenn explains: "The presence of David's work is symbolic of the displacement of certain communities throughout United States cities--specifically the Midwest, where this displacement is palpable." Her intention is even deeper than the recognition of the former residents of Pruitt-Igoe, also reflecting on the broader history of colonization.

"For me the work speaks to the ethos of the land grab and erasure that is intrinsic to this site. I imagine that if we invite an architect like Adjaye who's thinking about a different kind of history, calling back to West African architectural forms, we are also connecting to the relationship among West Africa, Britain and the United States. From there it gets even deeper. This also forces us to look at US imperialism more broadly, as the ideas of the American Dream and Manifest Destiny are tied to the success of the Haitian Independence movement and the relationship among, of course, West Africa, the Caribbean and the United States - that historical trajectory into today with the continued displacement of communities and people."

Beyond ideas of place and displacement, inclusion and exclusion are central to Glenn's work as a curator in the public art arena. " Themes of home, architecture, and black space on the continent are ideas that this monumental work by Adjaye explores in a neighborhood that has experienced extreme decline. Thinking about these tensions, these complexities, is central to my process." However, it is in exploring these complexities that meaningful- and groundbreaking- collaborations can happen. "When you lean into history, what emerges is, hopefully, synergistic engagements between artists, sites, and partners," she explains.

In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street
Billboard exhibition in Chicago, June 6-July 20, 2016

Envisioning a More Audience-Centric Future for Public Art

Glenn is excited about the future of her profession and her role in shaping it. She is most excited about the movement towards more audience-centric approaches, calls for inclusivity with artists, language, and the types of responses that are being generated. She sees that audience-centric approaches are essential to the future of the profession, and that this comes down to trust. She explains that, "When you go to a museum and you see the wall text, that's meant to be the kind of authoritative voice on what you're seeing within the exhibition space. It's one perspective, and it is not necessarily set in stone or accurate. Having an audience-centric approach is about bringing our different subjectivities to everything that we do in the world. Audience-centric curatorial work acknowledges and creates space for that. It allows people to see themselves and their experience in the work and to draw their own conclusions as to what they're seeing. This approach trusts audiences, and I trust audiences! I trust that people can make clear connections between ideas that are being communicated and their understanding of the world."

Glenn sees that this movement towards inclusivity in curatorial work is a pivotal moment for her profession. "The field is becoming more of a space that's representative of the different communities and publics in the United States and globally. Hopefully, this will shift the way that history is told and the way that our contemporary moment is understood. The work that we do right now reflects this time, so what is really exciting to me is thinking about historians or curators in the future and hoping that they look at what we were doing and say, 'Wow! At that time in the field, things shifted and redirected the field.'

View of "Promise, Witness, Remembrance," 2021, Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. Tamika Palmer's timeline of Breonna Taylor's life. Photo: Bill Roughen.

Working from a Place of Trust

Glenn sees that it is in her openness to create her own pathway that has led to her success. She fearlessly created a unique path as an undergraduate in Photography and Urban Studies, and with dual masters in Art History and Arts Administration. Ultimately, Glenn's advice to students is to "Just say 'Yes!'" She believes that trusting herself, her passions, and her intuitive drive is essential to her success. "You can take so many paths in life, but choose the one that lights you up. It doesn't have to necessarily make sense at the time. That's part of trusting your gut. You could take the easy or more traditional path, which could be the path that leaves less to be determined, but ultimately you might end up wondering 'what if?' So, I say, take risks. It might not always work out, but just trust this is part of the process. I had the wonderful opportunity to experience so much in my career, and that all fed into the person I am today. I am senior curator at one of the oldest public art organizations in New York City, which was started by Doris C. Freedman, who was the first female Public Art Commissioner in New York. To be Senior Curator for this organization, I feel that I am walking in this legacy, and in the tenure of so many incredible curators that have come before me. I'm so thrilled at where I am in life. Just trust the path."



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