For Liz Andrews, being involved in cultural studies embraces the idea that you are versed in ways of seeing and thinking critically about the world.
That mindset has been invaluable for her work at the intersection of the arts and social justice, said Andrews, who earned her PhD in cultural studies from George Mason University in 2019.
The gifted artist, curator, and museum professional has worked for colleges and arts organizations across the nation. Spelman College in Atlanta recently named Andrews executive director of Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. She began her new role Aug. 2.
“It feels like the right thing at the right time because Spelman is at a moment where they are really investing in the arts in a beautiful way and making it a priority for all students,” said Andrews.
She pointed to the Atlanta University Center that includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta as one example, with the center offering a major across the three schools.
Andrews said she wants the museum to be accredited as part of the American Alliance of Museums, which would be a first as no HBCU museum has received that accreditation.
“I would like for the museum to be a premier collection,” said Andrews. “I want to have more shows that originate at Spelman and then travel to other museums across the country.”
Another goal is to create catalogues of the museum’s collections and increase historical publications.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the museum, and plans are underway to break ground in the fall on an arts facility that will include an innovation lab, classroom space, offices, and art storage, as well as nearly double the museums’ gallery space.
“The president of Spelman, Mary Schmidt Campbell, has described the future museum as wanting it to be the front porch of the college,” said Andrews, “a place where not only students feel welcome, but the greater Atlanta community feels welcome to come and see art primarily by women of the African diaspora—which is the charge of the museum.”
A 2015 study found that the museum field was overwhelmingly white, and most people who became directors came from wealthy backgrounds.
“The Mellon Foundation as well as the Ford and Walton Foundations have made some serious commitments to helping to diversify the ranks of the museum in the curatorial and leadership tracks,” said Andrews, citing Naomi Beckwith being named deputy director and chief curator at the Guggenheim as one example.
Andrews has a long-standing commitment to engaging undergraduate students through research and the arts. As a doctoral student at Mason, she co-taught the multi-year Mason Science of Diversity Project.
She continued to engage with undergraduate students as a guest instructor in art history at Mason. Her classes challenged students to reconsider the roles of art in society and develop critical research projects.
In Spring 2021, Andrews taught an online African art course at Mason and introduced her students to several African artists working today—Julie Mehretu, Zanele Muholi, Wangechi Mutu, and modern artist Maliki Sidibé. Her class developed an Instagram page and each student was tasked with creating a post that had a compelling images and information.
“It was powerful for them to see that there are African artists working today who are at the top of the art world,” Andrews said.