In 2019, New Orleans native, Gia M. Hamilton became the Executive Director & Chief Curator of the The New Orleans African American Museum of Art, History and Culture. As a native of the city, a background in curatorial work, a degree in cultural anthropology and applied anthropology it is befitting that she takes on the helms of the museum. As we watch the beginnings of greatness of the museum, I was able to interview Ms. Hamilton about the museum, the future and what to expect when you visit the museum.
Many people (including myself) sometimes wonder about the challenges that museums face. Can you tell me some of the fascinating things that you discovered since starting at the museum?
Museums are a part of a long-standing colonial structure where objects and works are taken out of context often times and placed in presentation for certain groups of people to have access to. I think museums are grappling with the idea that many of these items and the people who created them were not considered in the acquisition process. The presentation of exhibitions has only recently begun to think about accessibility. One of the challenges is demystifying the term museum and reclaiming for community and creatives. Museums should work with community and creatives to serve the larger mission which means listening. The New Orleans African American Museum gets to think about this from the “ground” up so to speak. We get to define our processes, purpose and collection. How do we best steward our collection? How do we partner with artists? What does our community want and expect from us? and in that sense we are decolonizing the museum space so that it is a more equitable space, we are reorienting visitors to new narratives and perspectives and thereby playing a much more important role in our city and in the cannon.
But on a more practical day to day level we experience the challenges of the funding world which funds programs and not operations so for a startup museum we rely heavily on our earned income through visitors, tours, space rentals and our gift shop. Those are ways that we generate revenue that can pay our team and vendors. In our revenue model I actually propose that we earn more of our income and rely on funders for specific initiatives and projects that we could not produce without their generous support.
If there was a perfect day in the operation of the museum what would it look like?
That’s a great question. well for starters it is active, meaning things are happening, people are talking or engaging with work. There are people from many different places and ages that are moving all about the campus. It feels generative and inspiring. There is a place to capture ideas and conversations that folks are having and there is a desire to return to the museum for discourse, exchanges, learning and connections.
Since your arrival at the The New Orleans African American Museum of Art, History and Culture what is the most rewarding hurdle you have overcome?
The museum was closed for six years and that is a long time for buildings to sit and we lost a lot of digital archives and information, rebuilding systems and spending my time implementing new systems is one of the most difficult hurdles because its invisible work, the public can’t see it and they shouldn’t. If I am doing my job well the work we do, events, exhibitions and presentations should feel as if we consider our community and the public- that requires a great deal of effort.
How can someone that does not live in the New Orleans assist in the operation of the museum?
Visitors and supporters can live or be anywhere. If you have an interest in New Orleans, African American or black culture that has developed from New Orleans then your support is welcomed. You can become a donor at any level, purchase a brick with your name written on it, consider making us a part of your annual giving, recommend us to family, friends and coworkers who are visiting and hosting events in the city of New Orleans.
I read that you are a New Orleans native. What inspired you to go back home and take on the large task of Executive Director & Chief Curator of the museum?
I came back to the city in 2008 because it was a good time to be an innovator next gen leader who was willing to try different things and success but honestly sometimes fail. I opened an incubator space that had a micro farm, healing room, residency program and gallery called Gris Gris Lab and then took on the more ambitious project of opening the Joan Mitchell Center, after six years of running that space I felt a calling to do more work by and for black artists and institutions. I live in Treme, five minutes away and feel that it is incredibly important that the museum operate well and share its vision with the community as the city develops and changes often times to the exclusion of the people who make it an interesting place. This museum is a passion and I am very willing to dedicate myself and to serve the community through our programming and exhibitions making this a hub and epicenter for black thought and creativity in the city.
As a visitor what should someone expect when they walk in the doors of the museum today?
Visitors should expect a place that feels like it has its finger on the pulse of what is contemporary and relevant while remembering the past and bringing forth new stories, narratives and works that tie the black experience together. Visitors will experience an interactive and immersive show with three multimedia pieces and beautiful 2d and 3d work by contemporary artists from New Orleans and around the country.
To learn about programming and exhibitions at the The New Orleans African American Museum of Art, History and Culture be sure to visit: https://www.noaam.org/exhibitions
The New Orleans African American Museum of Art, History and Culture
1417-1418 Governor Nicholls New Orleans, Louisiana 70116