Today we’d like to introduce you to Schillica Howard.
Hi Schillica, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
A lightbulb went off when I saw a Museum Scholarship certificate listed among the programs offered at the University of Maryland: College Park. I was a new American Studies student there, and the thought of working in a museum never occurred to me before this moment.
Despite my love for museums, I didn’t know any Black people who worked in the field. I didn’t even know what options were available. My passion for uncovering and telling stories, specifically untold stories, led me to Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland: Baltimore County (UMBC).
I learned how to research the sociopolitical histories that lead us to the current state of society, and the value of preserving voices, like my own, that too often go unheard. When I saw the opportunity to apply these skills to the museum field, I jumped at the opportunity.
I gained valuable theoretical knowledge in class and hands-on experience at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
In 2018, I was thrilled to accept a position as Curator of Collections and Exhibits at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, Maryland, the state’s only official African American history and culture museum. As a Marylander, I am honored to be the person preserving and protecting my own history.
Additionally, I opened a museum collection and exhibition consulting company, working with private collections and GLAM institutions of various sizes.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Simply entering the museum field was my first big challenge. As I previously mentioned, I did not know that a career in the museum industry was possible until I was pursuing a doctoral degree. Thus, I was unprepared for the level of competition in the field.
I quit my doctoral program, graduating with a Master’s degree instead, and expected to find a job in the field relatively easily. I had two Master’s degrees and internship experience at two Smithsonian museums, after all. To my surprise, securing work in the field took over a year. My ego took a massive hit.
When I finally started working in the field, pay became the next challenge. I quickly learned that liveable wages were an issue across the museum industry and remain an issue to this day.
Small museums and museums focusing on Black history and culture struggle with funding, exacerbating the issue of pay. Low pay continues to be a deterrent for low-income people and people of color who are interested in this line of work.
My current salary is the salary I expected when I first entered the field years ago!
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I have two “roles” towards the same end: documenting and preserving Black history and culture.
First, I am the Curator of Collections & Exhibitions at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, Maryland’s official museum on Black history and culture. I am also an independent collections manager and registrar. I have a passion for the stories that objects tell and work closely with individuals and organizations to ensure their proper preservation.
My identity and my approach to my work set me apart. Black women curators are thankfully receiving opportunities and recognition now, but our numbers are still low.
The number of Black women in collections management is even lower. Thanks to my educational background in Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies, and American Studies, I utilize a framework that calls for centering historically marginalized stories. I always prioritize (queer) Black women in my work.
I am most proud of three projects, in no particular order. The first is an exhibition I curated at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in 2018 entitled “Verda’s Place: An Homage to a Valiant Woman” which followed the life and legacy of Senator Verda Freeman Welcome, the first Black woman in the US to hold a seat in a State Senate.
The second was securing a $50,000 Museum Grant for African American History and Culture from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to install proper storage for BDM’s Fine Art Collection and African Art Collection. The third is an ongoing archival project at Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center that I am completing in my independent practice.
I am also working on an exhibition at the Banneker-Douglass Museum that is guest curated by Myrtis Bedolla, Founding Director of Galerie Myrtis. “The Radical Voice of Blackness Speaks of Resistance and Joy” opens on November 10, 2022, and I’m already extremely proud of it!
Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen
The Memory Librarian: and Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe
Notion (I just started using it, and I love it!)
The Last Podcast on the Left
Let’s Not Meet: A True Horror Podcast