If you’re into Charlotte’s visual arts scene, then Jonell Logan is a familiar name to you. Logan is an independent curator (a person who selects pieces for museums or art collections) and the owner of 300 Arts Project, an arts management and consulting company located here in Charlotte. The New York native previously did stints at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of Art as well as the Studio Museum in Harlem. Closer to home, she’s held positions at Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture in Charlotte.
Recently, I met up with Logan to discuss her career and her take on diversity in Charlotte’s art community. We chatted at her studio as she simultaneously curated multiple projects, including the National Black Arts Festival taking place next month in Atlanta and a project at the Mint Museum here in town.
KL: Tell me about the 300 Arts Project.
JL: I was at the Gantt Center directing education and public programs. I also curated exhibitions. I was there from 2013 to 2015, but I felt like there was a gap. I realized I needed to do something else in order to entertain filling that gap. When I started 300 Arts, I was trying to figure out how to support emerging contemporary artists and connect them with those who collect, write about and support these artists.
KL: What is the difference between an independent curator and being part of an institution?
JL: Depending on the institution, you can take more risks. In Charlotte, there’s a lot of conversation around contemporary art, but there is also a lot of safety around the work being shown and who is being engaged. Being independent allows me to take more risks — to [exhibit] artists who institutions may not be familiar with. I’m not anti-institution, in fact, I would love to go back into institutions and transform them strategically.
KL: Let’s talk about Charlotte – and your body language kind of expressed it a little bit – but how do you think Charlotte has done with cultivating curators of color?
JL: Charlotte has not done a good job of cultivating not only curators of color, but curators period – that includes local curatorial talent or supporting their artists. Part of the challenge is that institutions here don’t have a system to train curators. There are schools with art history programs, but I’m talking about the institutions themselves.
A lot of people end up leaving and they don’t come back – artists included. If your artists leave, then the people who write about them or show their work really don’t have a lot to work with, and then they leave. Some of our key institutions don’t have full-time curators, yet they have a museum and that’s hugely problematic. It’s not just about your exhibition program. It’s about cultivating and training a whole new group of people who could do the work and also have a connection to Charlotte. It’s like reinventing the wheel when bringing in outside curators because they have to figure out the dynamics of Charlotte.
Except for one, there isn’t a black or brown person in charge of an institution. That affects the way people are able to engage and actually see themselves represented. And when we talk about institutional leaders of color, it seems like there is this expectation that a person of color will do person-of-color stuff. As museums are looking at diversifying their staff, some get stuck in that trap. But a lot are realizing that just because you’re black, you don’t have to talk about black stuff. People of color can speak broadly about different experiences.
KL: Can diversity be divisive?
JL: I think it depends on your perspective. I can argue for and against that. The history of museums has been white, male European and rich. To break that cycle is not easy. Anytime there is a shift in a system, people become uncomfortable. The Arts and Science Council has a program on diversity and inclusion for arts-based organizations — and I was in that program — Catalyst for Cultural Equity. Those types of programs won’t make an impact unless we actually act and make change.
There’s a lot of talent here, and a lot of that talent is leaving because of the dynamics of the city. That doesn’t do Charlotte any justice. There’s a network that exists and people aren’t waiting to partner with the larger institutions. They’re starting to do it themselves.
If we’re having a cultural conversation around blackness, there has to be people of color at the table. That plays a huge role in developing programs that foster new curators and museum leaders.