Meet Jessica Fuentes

Full Name: Jessica Fuentes

Where do you work: Amon Carter Museum of American Art

What is your job title: Manager of School & Community Outreach

What does your average day in the museum look like: An average day is a mix of cross-departmental meetings, observing gallery teachers who lead our school tours, and going out into the community to lead programming or meet with community partners to plan upcoming events.

What (project, initiative, etc.) are you currently working on right now for your museum: I'm very excited about our new community outreach initiatives. We are focused on meeting the community where they are and creating sustainable partnerships with organizations throughout our city. This summer we have been piloting a repeat visit program where museum educators go out to community centers throughout the summer. These repeat visit programs are one way for the museum to truly invest in our community. We are also planning a similar repeat visit program with after-school programs in the upcoming school year.

What is your educational background: I have an MA in Art Education and a BA in Art & Performance.

What led you to the museum field: After graduating with my BA, I really had no idea what I could do with my degree. So, I traveled. I traveled with friends and alone as a way to get outside of the small world that I knew (North Texas). During those travels I ended up taking an internship at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and that experience opened my eyes to the transformative experiences that museum education can offer for young people. I knew I wanted to be a part of bringing those types of experiences to my own community.

What are your earliest memories in a museum? My earliest memories in a museum are of a Science & History museum. My parents understood the importance of Science and Math and made sure I had access to those things. I didn't visit an art museum until I was a Junior in High School.

Any obstacles you've had to overcome to get to where you are now in the field: Early in my career, I had a hard time landing any job in the field other than unpaid internships. It was incredibly frustrating to feel as though I had much to offer in terms of experience and education yet I was being overlooked. Now that I have had the opportunity to be part of hiring teams, I am seeing some of the inherent biases that might have hindered potential employers from seeing me as a viable candidate. The first few times I witnessed this for myself it was incredibly disheartening and frustrating. Then I began to respectfully speak up—pointing out when others on the team were favoring candidates who were alumni from their alma mater, or when candidates might bring important skillsets to the table gained from work outside of the traditional museum experience.  

How did you overcome these obstacles? For myself, I learned quickly that breaking into the field was all about who you know. I started networking and reaching out to people in institutions that I admired and it was those connections that helped me land my first full-time paid position in a museum. Now that I am on the other side of things, I make it a point to bring awareness to my team of their own biases as we go through the hiring process.

What has been your proudest moment with regard to where you are in your career and the work you do in the field: I am incredibly proud of the new approaches to community outreach that my team is taking. Additionally, I am excited that we have hired our first Bilingual Gallery Teacher and that my team will start piloting Bilingual and Spanish tours for students. Opening pathways for people of color to feel welcome in the museum and to feel a sense of belonging is incredibly important to me.

What advice would you give a student thinking about entering the field: Network, network, network. You could be brilliant at what you do, but having that extra benefit of knowing someone in the field makes a huge difference.

What book/source/link would you recommend to learn more about the kind of work you do: These are articles I wrote in my previous position, Manager of Gallery Interpretation and the Center for Creative Connections at the Dallas Museum of Art. I have only been at the Amon Carter for a short time, but hope to have some articles soon about the work I am doing in my new position.

What's next for you in your career: I am still settling in to my new position here at the Amon Carter, so thinking about my future is very much still focused on developing new community partnerships and improving our school tours and distance learning options with an eye towards Racial Equity and Equal Access.

What is your favorite museum to go to other than your own and why: The most powerful experience I have had at a museum was at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was both amazing and saddening to realize that in all the museums I had visited or worked for I had never seen such a rich collection of art by artists who are African American. Of course, I have always been aware of the lack of diversity in many art museums, but the experience of being at NMAAHC really hit me in a visceral way. I wish I could visit it everyday.

Anything else you'd like to add that you want others to know about yourself or your job: I am an artist and mother and take much pride in balancing my art practice, caring for my family, and my work in art museums.

Karen Vidángos