Laura J. Allen (MA 2020) is an interdisciplinary curator, scholar, and writer. She was appointed Curator of Native American Art at Montclair Art Museum (MAM) in Montclair, New Jersey in March 2021. From 2017–2018, she served as the Curatorial Associate in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) for its ongoing Northwest Coast Hall renovation. As a museum professional, she has developed and edited numerous exhibition, media, and educational projects for AMNH and has consulted on interpretation and community engagement for several other organizations, including the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks.

What attracted you to the BGC’s program?

Four aspects of BGC drew me in particular: its interdisciplinary approach, its rigor, and its opportunities to study curatorial practice and cross-cultural topics. I have a diverse background in the natural sciences, fashion design, and editorial production. I had been working in museums for a long time before applying for my Master’s, and was increasingly turning to curatorship. BGC was one of the few graduate programs where I felt I could merge my range of intellectual and practical goals, and all in New York City, where I have lived for more than a decade.

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

My focus was Indigenous and intercultural material culture and design of the Americas, especially dress and textiles. In the years before I began at BGC in 2017, I had increasingly been offered museum opportunities to cover the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. I became very invested in working with people and collections from this area. Studying with Aaron Glass and other professors (at BGC and Columbia University) enabled me to deepen my focus while also broadening my knowledge: I studied cultural, material, and art histories of the Americas, global exchange, the anthropology of art, museology and curatorial practice, and art/science intersections. Given my interest in garments, I also took several dress history courses with Michele Majer. My graduate internships and my qualifying project, an exhibition proposal entitled Fashioning the Northwest Coast: 200 Years of Indigenous Dress, bridged my passions.

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

After graduating, my objective was to work as a curator at a New York-area museum with a strong collection of Native-made work and progressive goals for community engagement and museological practice. I was delighted to learn that the Montclair Art Museum had recently established a Native American art advisory council with leaders in the field. I am researching and caring for an outstanding collection of more than 4,000 historical and contemporary works from Native North America. I am working to expand access for Native people, center their perspectives, and build reciprocal relationships. For September 2021, I am organizing the installation of Color Riot!, an exhibition of innovative Navajo weaving from the Heard Museum. Then, in a collaborative fashion, I will facilitate a site-specific artistic intervention and the reinstallation of MAM’s Native American art gallery, among other responsibilities.

How has your experience at BGC helped your career?
I recall Dean Peter Miller telling my entering class that we would leave the program creating the sort of research that we were only then reading. We would design and steer our own intellectual practice. The high quality of BGC’s training, mentorship, research support, and network did just that—my diverse background and museum experience alone could only go so far. The practical opportunities in exhibition development during my BGC years further solidified my preparedness to creatively curate. I could not have imagined a better segue to my current position, and I am grateful for both.