Emily Le, a junior majoring in creative writing and art history, has found a new world within the fine arts she never intended to find.
Through the help of the LACMA-affiliated Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship, Le has found herself completely in the midst of a world of fine arts, museum curation and endless wonder that she said her younger self would have never predicted.
Le is the daughter of two Vietnamese immigrants and, as a first-generation American and college student, she was not brought into the world of fine arts until her undergraduate career.
“As a first-gen, I knew very little about what college really was,” Le said. “I [just] happened to land in art history.”
Le has long sensed the disadvantages placed on many who look to study the arts, whether due to culture, familial pressure or class struggles. However, Le accredits much of her ability to pursue her passion for curation to her familial support system, which may not know exactly what she aspires to do but will surely be there each step of the way.
“It is kind of a world where people are very wealthy and elitist,” Le said. The battle to place herself in the museum space has been consistently filled with a sensation of being a step behind.
However, Le has not allowed for this overwhelming sensation to limit her in the pursuit of coveted positions within art history and the world well beyond it.
After years of hard work and great achievements on campus, Le has continued to seize opportunities. She is currently flourishing in the Mellon Fellowship at LACMA, which is designed for driven, talented students from underrepresented backgrounds not directly involved in the historically exclusive community of museums and fine art.
Now in its sixth year running, the fellowship opportunity places students directly into the world of museum curation and the further study of the fine arts. As a program centered upon encouraging undergraduate students to pursue graduate programs in the fields of fine arts, those selected for the fellowship leave with knowledge of the vast possibilities in the community, ranging from curation to conservation. Students who were previously set back by their backgrounds now bring an entirely new perspective to museums nationwide, helping introduce a new population to a space that desperately needs fresh eyes.
At LACMA, Le works under the guidance of Hollis Goodall, a curator of Japanese art who has worked at LACMA for 38 years. Goodall outlined the hectic and exciting opportunities Le has been introduced to since she was welcomed to the curation scene at LACMA. Le has had access to a few of the most prominent figures within LACMA, an opportunity not many undergraduate students have been afforded. Ranging from the heads of conservation, publications, graphics, conservation, press and marketing, Le is frequently exposed to a wide spectrum of possibilities. With this, Le was provided with direct insight into the highest levels of the functions of fine art and how these officials look to spread art to the community.
Le’s reach extends well beyond LACMA, as she also has an active presence at USC. Since her freshman year, she has been a contributor to the school’s Archeology Research Center, to which she credits much of her interest in art, history and museum culture. Le joined the lab because of a freshman year work-study opportunity and has climbed the ranks to now serve as a collections supervisor. With her interest in the field growing, she added a minor in the practice, expanding her skill set.
At the USC Fisher Museum of Art on campus, Le co-curated an exhibit titled “Suppression, Subversion, and the Surreal: The Art of Czechoslovakian Resistance.” The exhibit delved into the political struggles in Czechoslovakia that took place after the 1960s Soviet occupation of the nation. The exhibition was well-received, as it captured the era at a time when art superseded fear in favor of expression and power. This was one of Le’s first experiences in the practice of curation and a notable moment in her artistic career.
Beyond her practice as an artist, writer and curator, Le continues to transcend the norm. April Robles, a junior majoring in psychology, has been a close friend of Le’s since their freshman year.
“She is probably the most open-minded person I know,” Robles said. “She cares about her friends a lot. Even though she has all of this going on … [She’s able to] take a step back and make time for her friends and family.”
The Mellon Fellowship has ignited a movement to make a historically exclusive space more inclusive. By extending the chance for students like Le to see the intricate workings within fine art, individuals of all backgrounds will see a new world of opportunity.