the GENDER issue / INTERVIEWS
An Interview with
Photo Credit: Ben Kornegay / Artwork by Ebony G. Patterson
For over a decade, Makeba Dixon-Hill has worked to produce "engaging cultural experiences" for various organizations. She is currently the Curator of Education at the Spelman Museum of Fine Art where she interprets the museum's art work into diverse interdisciplinary experiences for an expansive audience. One of these experiences, Yoga In the Museum, allows for visitors to enter the museum space and partake in yoga sessions while appreciating the featured artwork. Dixon-Hill constantly stays in tune with her community and the art "worlds and ecosystems" that help to bring people together.
She is a graduate of Spelman College, where she studied English and Art History, She also holds a M.A. in Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
We had the honor to catch up with Makeba Dixon-Hill to discuss her love for art, her role as Curator of Education, and her advice to those pursuing careers in visual art.
" The weight of onlyness cradles freedom and possibilities while the burden of it can take the title and place it into a space of erasure and essentialism."
Thank you for taking time out to speak with Auburn Avenue.
You are so welcome. I appreciate the invitation to have my voice included in this very special issue. The first time we (the Museum and myself) were introduced to Auburn Avenue was to feature the words of Vanessa German, while her work was on view for the AFRICA FORECAST: FASHIONING Contemporary Life exhibition, and it was a beautiful experience. Thank you for thinking so highly of our contributions to reach out again.
Can you start off by telling us how you came to love art and eventually pursue a career in it?
My love for and commitment to art begin with my family. My grandfather is a musician and my grandmother’s ability to tell a good story is unparalleled. They were the ones that instilled the ability to translate what I’m feeling and observing creatively. Coming from an artistic family made loving art natural. I am especially thankful to my parents, however, for both encouraging me to pursue a career in it and giving me the space needed to explore without feeling apprehension or limitations about my decisions.
In your role as Curator of Education at the Spelman Museum of Art you oversee programs that enrich the visual arts experience for visitors to the museum—for example, you created the “Yoga in the Museum” recurring event, amongst others. How important is this type of engagement in witnessing and appreciating art?
A primary reason why I am so committed to the Museum is that I have an opportunity to lean all the way into celebrating Blackness, creativity, and Black Women.
Yoga in the Museum originated out of a need. At Spelman, the building where all physical fitness classes were held was being rebuilt and classes were migrated to an auditorium, including yoga. During that time the College was widely promoting wellness as a lifestyle, and some of us were not sure what that meant. Is being skinny the equivalent of being well? was a frequent question that came up in conversation. In my role at Spelman people were expressing interest in my personal wellness routine while I was grappling with the overwhelming data asserting that museums were not perceived as safe spaces for all, especially Black people. Anchored by the colleagues and alumnae rooted in contemplative practices, Yoga in the Museum was created to build community, support our students and faculty, and expand our perception of “what it means to be well” while being surrounded by art that amplifies the voices and faces of those that made up most of these classes, Black Women.
Our belief statement is that the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art’s public programming and engagement efforts assert that Black Female Creativity is inextricably linked to interdisciplinary innovation and promoting wholistic healing.
This type of engagement finds itself in everything we do. Where there’s a way to support an artist realize a dream connected to our mission, we want to make ourselves available. And let me share my definition of an artist: someone who has the courage to call themselves one.
The Spelman Museum of Art is the only art museum that emphasizes art by and about women of the African Diaspora. When you reflect on that statement, what are your thoughts?
I usually have conflicting thoughts about it. For those of you who have been the only, you may be able to identify with me. That word is so loaded and holds a different melody based on the voices uttering it. The weight of onlyness cradles freedom and possibilities while the burden of it can take the title and place it into a space of erasure and essentialism. The Museum inspires and enriches the Spelman College community and the general public, primarily through art by women of the African Diaspora that we endeavor to make accessible to all. That work energizes me and to be connected to an institution that was built in a time where it was “the only” makes me so happy and encouraged to see it transition as one of the firsts.
What is your take on the current state of the art world, particularly as it relates to how black people—as artists and art professionals—find their place?
I first want to call out that there are art worlds. By pluralizing it, we inherently acknowledge their unique and valuable ecosystems, support the different routes to travel, and the expansive ways we can define success and acknowledge when we made it “there.” Your place(s) is/are yours alone to name and occupy.
For those looking to pursue careers in visual arts, what advice would you impart?
Do you know what you want? If not, talk to a knowledgeable, respected, and trusted person to brainstorm with. I highly recommend Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher to support you in identifying what’s important to you and the next steps, if you are unclear. Build community, mentors, peer groups, sponsors, and patrons. Yes, sponsors. Put first things first, focus on your work, be open to challenging yourself, be aware that some of the most beautiful environments harbor the most distressing things, and finally find and live in your unique light.