Darienne Turner is the Assistant Curator of Indigenous Arts of the Americas at the Baltimore Museum of Art, an enrolled member of the Yurok Tribe of California, and a faculty member in Maryland institute College of Art’s Graphic Design department. Her work engages critically with the history of indigeneity in the Americas and beyond. She earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Stanford University in 2011 and an M.A. in Material Culture, Design History & Decorative Arts from the Bard Graduate Center in 2017. She is the curator of Stripes and Stars: Reclaiming Lakota Independence (2020), and has contributed to exhibitions at the Bard Graduate Center, Walters Art Museum, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and Yellowstone National Park. Her essay “Terrestrial Gateways to the Divine” (cowritten with another BGC alum Alexandra Beuscher) was featured in the Agents of Faith: Votive Objects in Time and Place exhibition catalogue, which was named one of the Best Art Books of 2018 by the New York Times.

What attracted you to the BGC’s program?

I was interested in studying material culture and really wanted to attend a 2 year MA program. The BGC felt like the perfect fit, because it has incredible faculty and I loved the idea of being right next door to the top museums in the United States. I spent so many hours meeting with museum curators and professionals, which was an experience that simply wouldn’t have been possible at other schools. It was particularly thrilling to attend classes at the Met Museum and think through potential curatorial initiatives or exhibition display possibilities in that setting.

What was your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it?

I focused on medieval material culture and also took courses that addressed Native American history and material culture. One of my favorite projects I did at the BGC was entitled “[Im]material Inheritance: Intergenerational Trauma and the Native American Community in New York City;” it considered how traditional craft practices can be used to heal the wounds of intergenerational trauma. I was awarded scholarships through the American Indian Graduate Center for the project and met a bunch of phenomenal Native people engaged with the American Indian Community House in NYC. In fact, a friend I made through that project, Sheldon Raymore, collaborated with me on the Stripes and Stars: Reclaiming Lakota Independence exhibition by doing audiotour stops that addressed how the historic works intersect with modern Lakota life.

Describe your position and how you came to it. What sort of projects are you working on?

I started working as faculty at Maryland Institute College of Art and the Curatorial Assistant for the Department of the arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands at the Baltimore Museum of Art in Fall 2017, a few months after I graduated from the BGC. In my position in the MICA Graphic Design department, I regularly lecture on [de]colonized design and Native representation in the graphic arts. I have co-taught with Ellen Lupton, Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, and award-winning graphic designer Brockett Horne (also a BGC alum) and developed curriculum with them that boldly embraces diversity and inclusion for the courses Design Theory & Practice, Senior Seminar, and Flexible Design Studio.

My role at the Baltimore Museum of Art has shifted over time. When I started working as a Curatorial Assistant, my responsibilities ranged from conducting research, assisting with maintenance of the permanent collection, and coordinating details surrounding exhibition planning and the accessions process. As an Assistant Curator, I now oversee the Museum’s entire collection of Indigenous art of the Americas, propose and execute special exhibitions that highlight Indigenous art, and plan permanent collection displays and rotations by selecting artworks and writing interpretive materials. I also spend a lot more time doing events, like artist talks and lectures on the BMA’s Facebook page, and collaborate with colleagues across the Museum and in the community.

How has your experience at BGC helped your career?

I think one of the most helpful things that the BGC provided me with was hands-on experience planning exhibitions. I was a PECO Foundation Curatorial Fellow, so I got to work closely with curators of several exhibitions at the BGC Gallery. I really enjoyed working on Agents of Faith, as the show was complex and had several different narratives at its core. A cohort of students worked diligently on the exhibition to help refine the object checklist, craft object labels, and even write articles for the catalogue. My fellowship and coursework helped me cultivate very valuable skills that translated well to my roles at the Baltimore Museum of Art and MICA both.