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IAIA Partners with Sealaska Heritage Institute for Museum Internship

Nov 28, 2022

“The contemporary Native experience is broad and includes Indigenous people from all over the world,” says Kimberly Fulton Orozco (Haida), who undertook an internship at the Institute of American Indian Arts’ museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this summer. This opportunity was facilitated by Sealaska Heritage, an Indigenous nonprofit organization based in Juneau, Alaska, that promotes cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public service and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute provides educational opportunities to Indigenous students, including internships and scholarships. Fulton Orozco, a bright and dedicated artist, student, and mother, has benefited from both.

“During my six weeks at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, I was able to get a well-rounded idea of the museum’s operations and the necessary roles to keep the museum running.” Working with MoCNA’s dedicated team, Fulton Orozco tried out a variety of professional roles, which helped her understand the “unique responsibilities” of a museum’s “curatorial, exhibition, and administrative branches.”

In her first two weeks at MoCNA, Fulton Orozco assisted Chief Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man and Guest Curator (and IAIA Professor of Art History) Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Siksika Nation) in creating a resource binder for the Art of Indigenous Fashion. “I learned about artists whose work I didn’t know before but is significant and inspires me,” says Fulton Orozco. She researched several fashion designers with close ties to IAIA, including Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) ’89, Marcus Amerman (Choctaw) ’84, and IAIA co-founder and first president Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee). Another featured artist whose work deeply impacted Fulton Orozco is Dorothy Grant (Haida).

Art of Indigenous Fashion exhibition, photograph by Nicole Lawe (Karuk)

“[T]he research phase of my internship was my favorite because it allowed me to make connections between my own family history and the work of the artist Dorothy Grant. […] The impetus behind her work is a marriage between a deep love for the stories that create the identity of the Haida people and a personal drive to tell stories and make garments that bestow the wearer with a sense of power and beauty. […] Seeing these pieces first-hand filled me with a sense of wonder and pride for the culture I belong to.”

Following her time with the curatorial team, Fulton Orozco assisted the administrative and exhibition teams. She learned about funding museum operations and acquisitions, tracking budgets, and coordinating volunteers and docents by shadowing Museum Director Patsy Phillips (Cherokee Nation) and her team. “We loved Kimberly. She was a good hard worker with enthusiastic interest,” says Phillips.

The director’s accessibility and openness inspired Fulton Orozco. “Patsy really does always have an open door. You can pop into her office and ask her a question.”

Fulton Orozco assisted with deinstalling a show, packing and crating artwork, producing condition reports, and resetting gallery spaces for new exhibitions. She participated in training presented by a textile conservator and mannequin specialist, allowing her to assist staff in dressing mannequins for Art of Indigenous Fashion. “I was impressed at how well the team worked together to develop strategies for exhibiting objects and garments,” she says.

Fulton Orozco, who is currently pursuing a Certificate in Museum Studies at IAIA and will join the Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts program this summer, enjoyed her time working at MoCNA. “It was such a great experience,” she says. “Just being around Manuela and Patsy—they’re both really passionate about contemporary Indigenous art. They’re eager to share, and both are really committed to teaching and mentorship.” The admiration goes both ways.

“Kimberly showed great interest in all aspects of curatorial and exhibition preparation work and asked questions to ensure the quality of her contributions. She showed great knowledge of Indigenous art and culture, the ability to think critically, as well as research and writing skills. She was of tremendous help to the museum, and we all enjoyed working with her,” says Well-Off-Man.

IAIA looks forward to future opportunities partnering with Sealaska Heritage and talented students like Kimberly Fulton Orozco in the future.