Enrolling in Montana State University led Rachel Meiling Tang to discover an unexpected passion, and it also resulted in her selection to a prestigious opportunity in the field of art history.
Tang, a sophomore at MSU who is majoring in art history in the School of Art in the College of Arts and Architecture, has been selected as one of 15 participants in the 2016 Mellon Summer Academy at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a week-long enrichment workshop in museum and curation at the famed contemporary art museum.
It will essentially be a week-long job interview for Tang, who will apply to be selected to be the 2016–18 Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellow, a two-year fellowship in museum and curating studies. The fellowship carries a scholarship to a college in the Los Angeles area as well as duties and mentorship at LACMA.
It’s an enormous opportunity for Tang, who planned to be a studio artist when she first enrolled at MSU last year. Her plans changed when she took an art history course from lecturer Barbara Emberlin that was a requirement for her major.
“I loved it so much and was so passionate about it from the beginning, that I came up with a new career goal for myself,” said Tang, who said her ultimate goal is to curate museums that make art more accessible for all as well as to teach at a university.
Tang said she has always been passionate about art, and that passion has gotten her through challenges unusual for someone who is just 20 years old. She grew up in Gallup, New Mexico. When she was in high school, her mother decided to move to Bozeman with Tang and her younger brother.
“Bozeman was just so beautiful and livable,” Tang said. “She wanted us to have a better life. I have thought it has been a privilege to live here with the mountains so close and the sunshine and sheer beauty.”
Her decision to stay home to attend MSU was cemented with the unexpected death of her mother a year ago, and Tang’s responsibility to raise her 17-year-old brother.
“I knew I wanted to go to a great school, which MSU is,” she said. “But, financially, (MSU) also made the most sense.”
Once she decided that her career was in art curation, rather than making art, she dove in. She works at the Tripp Gallery in the Emerson Cultural Center and has an internship at the Museum in the Rockies helping to catalogue the fine arts collection. To make money to support her and her brother she also does other odd jobs, like cleaning fish tanks at a local business.
Tang credits mentorship from Melissa Ragain and other excellent professors in art history with “igniting my passion” for art history.
In turn, Ragain said Tang has become passionate in her involvement in her studies, also serving as president of MSU’s Art History Society this year.
“She brings a wonderful energy that is informed by her politics, her training in philosophy, and a healthy sense of humor,” Ragain said.
Ragain encouraged Tang to apply for summer fellowships. Tang was also accepted to a Mellon academy at the Art Institute of Chicago, but jumped at the chance to study at LACMA. While at the week-long academy, participants will work co-curating a contemporary photography show. She believes she has been well prepared to compete well for the fellowship that will result from the work.
“The intersection of social activism and art has always been important for me,” she said. “Our wonderful faculty members have solidified my passion. I now read academic journals for fun.”
Tang said that mentorship has inspired her goal of earning a doctorate in art history. Tang plans to declare a double-major in philosophy, in the College of Letters and Science, which will prepare her to research “the intersection of philosophy and art, the intersection of text and image.”
“It’s an exciting time for art, with the internet changing access to art and discourse,” she said. “It is an exciting time for me to be doing this.”
Melissa Ragain (406) 994-2164, firstname.lastname@example.org