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Curatorial Opportunities

The Visual Studies Program collaborates with various institutes on campus to support students in pursuing curatorial projects: the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College, the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at Porter College, the Institute of the Arts and Sciences in the Arts Division, and the Special Collections and Archives in the McHenry Library.


Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery

With a history that extends to UC Santa Cruz’s pioneer classes of faculty and students, the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery functions as a significant pillar within the intellectual life of Cowell College and represents a cornerstone in the university’s network of exhibition spaces.  In the spirit of the college’s motto “The pursuit of truth in the company of friends,” the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery celebrates the capacity of the visual arts to enliven and expand the horizons of inquiry while fostering connections not only within the college, but within the broader campus and local community. 

Established in 1966 and named after Eloise Pickard Smith, an artist, beloved member of the campus community, and the wife of Cowell College’s founding provost, Page Smith, the gallery supports a dynamic range of programming that centers around quarterly exhibitions. The gallery also houses a permanent collection featuring works by California artists and Eloise Pickard Smith among its highlights. 

Graduate students have the following opportunities to gain curatorial experience in the Smith Gallery :

  • Students can assist in the preparation of upcoming exhibitions and can develop related projects in conversation with the Smith Gallery Research Associate. Students with no prior gallery experience are welcome. Enrolling in an independent study course with a relevant faculty member is recommended as a way to gain course credit for the work performed during this time. 
  • Students can propose public programs hosted by the Smith Gallery (artist or scholarly talks, film screenings, workshops, seminars, etc). Although thematic resonance with the gallery’s current exhibition is encouraged, this is not a requirement for submitting a proposal. Funding to support events is not guaranteed, but the Smith Gallery can provide assistance with promotion, event logistics, and limited equipment. 
  • Students are also welcome to propose future exhibitions to be curated in collaboration with the Smith Gallery. In this case, it is especially desirable for the students to be familiar with the Smith Gallery’s operations either though prior collaborations through programming, or through an independent study in the gallery. 

For more information please visit the gallery's webpage or contact


Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery

The Sesnon Gallery operates a museum-oriented, participatory program for educational purposes at the University of California, Santa Cruz. With a focus on contemporary practices, the gallery organizes an annual schedule of exhibitions that represents a broad range of methods, media and cultures, in a local, regional, national and international context. Students interested in collaborating with the gallery have a number of options, discussed below. All collaborations are arranged on a case-by-case basis according to guidelines and expectations specified by the director/curator of the gallery and supervisor of all projects, Shelby Graham.

Graduate students can pursue curatorial projects in collaboration with Sesnon Gallery in the following ways:

  • Students collaborate in the preparation of upcoming exhibitions, already in the annual schedule of the gallery. Review the information available online for forthcoming exhibitions, and contact Shelby Graham to discuss available options that will usually be analogous to your previous experiences but can also evolve as the collaboration develops. Students with no or limited previous experience can volunteer in order to receive training and establish a relationship with the gallery that can lead to further collaborations. Students with extensive previous experience might have more options. In agreement with Graham, it is possible to work on a project while also taking an independent study course with a relevant faculty member or the Director of Graduate Studies, in order to absorb the workload required for the project into course credit. Currently the potential for remuneration is limited, but we are working on improving this possibility.  For information on an exhibition co-curated by graduate student crystal am nelson see here.
  • Students propose their own curatorial projects for approval. The Charles Griffin Farr Collection owned by the Sesnon offers various curatorial opportunities (see here for the most recent Sesnon exhibit from this collection), but student projects can involve any other kind of material. An exhibition at the Sesnon Gallery main space requires planning at least two years in advance. Auxiliary spaces (Porter Faculty Gallery and Sesnon Underground) allow for more flexibility. After discussing their preliminary idea with Graham, students should provide a reasonable budget. Funding will usually come from various internal sources (for example, the Sesnon Gallery, the Arts Division, the Institute of the Arts and Sciences, and Porter College), but external funding is highly desirable, especially for projects involving a large budget. Both Graham and the Director of Graduate Studies can assist with planning and applications for funding. For previous Sesnon exhibitions see here.  In agreement with Graham, it is possible to arrange for an independent study course in this case as well.
  • Students organize events hosted by the Sesnon Gallery (for example artist or scholarly talks, film screenings, etc). Such events can but do not have to be relevant to contemporary Sesnon exhibits. After approval by Graham, students are responsible for organizing and seeking funds for events, but the Sesnon Gallery supports them with publicity and hosting venue. For past events see here.


Institute of the Arts and Sciences

The Institute of the Arts and Sciences (IAS) is an interdisciplinary exhibition and event forum at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Institute’s mission is to harness the creative power of the arts and the sciences to explore big questions and critical issues of our time. It contributes to the cultural life of UC Santa Cruz and features the work of nationally renowned artists and groundbreaking scientists and scholars. The Institute is currently offering a range of public programs, sponsoring residencies, and conducting a nomadic exhibition program. All collaborations are arranged on a case-by-case basis according to the mission of the IAS, under the oversight and guidance of the founding director, John Weber.

Graduate students can pursue curatorial projects in collaboration with IAS in the following ways:

  • The IAS employs one Visual Studies student as graduate research assistant (GSR), to support all the activities of the Institute, including curatorial projects. Currently the GSR appointment is a twelve-month position with the IAS, with the possibility of renewal. It consists of 20 hours of work per week, primarily in the Institute offices. The GSR stands in place of a Teaching Assistant (TA) position, supplying museum credentials and experience. One of its great advantages is that it provides employment during the summer months as well. For information on an exhibition curated by the first IAS graduate assistant, Rachel Nelson, see here.
  • Opportunities exist for graduate students to collaborate on exhibitions, projects, and events that pertain to the Institute mission and that work within the Institute’s site specific and nomadic programming structure. Interested students should review information on upcoming exhibits at the IAS webpage, and inquire about opportunities by emailing Students are welcome to propose an independent study in relation to a project they commit to undertake at IAS, in collaboration with Institute staff and HAVC faculty.


Special Collections and Archives, McHenry Library

The University Library's Special Collections and Archives offers UCSC's academic community, visiting scholars, and the general public access to the library's most unique holdings. It preserves and promotes collections that hold particular historical and cultural significance to an international scholarly community, houses and provides access to publications and archives focusing on the geographic region of Santa Cruz, and serves as the repository for UCSC administrative archives. For more information on the Library’s holdings browse the various webpages available at the relevant website. To contact Special Collections and Archives email them at

Graduate students can pursue curatorial projects in collaboration with Special Collections and Archives in the following ways: 

  • Students are hired to work in the CART program. The Center for Archival Research and Training (CART) integrates primary source materials more fully into the teaching and research mission of the university by providing hands-on experience for graduate students, while enhancing access to archival collections. Working in CART allows students to gain experience with primary sources and receive compensation at a rate competitive with similar on-campus employment options. For more information on previous and upcoming projects, application deadlines and requirements, review the relevant webpage. Students hired by CART work 100 hours per quarter, which include training and mentorship. Due to restrictions on working hours established by the Graduate Division, students who are hired as Teaching or Research Assistants by the University must get approval by the Grad Division to work at CART and must make special arrangements with CART concerning their work schedule. First year graduate students do not face such restrictions in the quarters they don't TA (usually fall and winter).
  • Students propose and implement exhibition projects that might derive from their previous CART work, or might be new projects. This work is not paid (although Special Collections and Archives might provide a small stipend). However, it is possible to work on a project while also taking an independent study course with a relevant faculty member or the Director of Graduate Studies, in order to absorb the workload required for that project into course credit. Students might propose exhibition projects for physical and/or digital exhibits based on the library collections. The Library is interested to develop movable exhibits for loan to other exhibition spaces, and this could be an opportunity for students to conceptualize and promote relevant proposals. In addition the Library provides good support for digital humanities projects, so if students have in mind digital exhibits not related to Library holdings, they might still be in discussion with Special Collections and Archives regarding available training and resources. The Digital Humanities Research Cluster of the Institute for Humanities Research is another relevant resource that might be useful to students working on digital projects. For examples of exhibitions co-curated by Visual Studies graduate students see here and here.


The Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz

The Museum of Art and History (MAH) in downtown Santa Cruz focuses on community building through interactive and participatory exhibition projects. Students interested in pursuing curatorial projects or other museum experiences should visit the jobs and internships opportunities page of the MAH. The page is periodically updated with new opportunities. Depending on the projects available, students might be able to arrange an independent study with a relevant faculty member or the Director of Graduate Studies, in order to absorb the workload required for a project into course credit.


Creative Entrepreneurship Internship

The Creative Entrepreneurship Internship (CEI) is an initiative of the Arts Division at UCSC that provides undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to apply for paid internships in Californian art companies or organizations across a wide range of disciplines. Partners include the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) and the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). Students selected to intern in these two institutions may have the opportunity to participate in curatorial projects.


Museum Studies Related Courses