Sophomore Pursues Passion Through LACMA Fellowship

Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia PO ’17 had been discussing his fellowship at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on a rainy day in Claremont when the opening chords of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” rang throughout the Coop. Commenting on the value of art and museums, Orozco-Valdivia seamlessly wove Tom Petty into his answer.

“Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin” has had
some sort of an impact in a way that a painting in an artist’s room, as
beautiful as it might be, doesn’t have,” Orozco-Valdivia said. “Museums have a key function in bringing
art to people; art needs to be seen and talked about in the same way that music
does.”

Throughout his
life, Orozco-Valdivia has grown to appreciate museums. In fact, various community-centered art organizations in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles sparked his creativity. 

“I was very fortunate to have
parents who took me to museums growing up,” he said. “I had exposure at an
early age to the Chicano art scene. Thinking of myself as a Chicano—and seeing the possibility of art within that
identity—was critical for me at a young age.”

Now, as an Andrew W. Mellon curatorial fellow at LACMA, he pulls from the unique world of his
Chicano upbringing.

“In no way does it limit me; it gives me a more broad
perspective on the world I exist in now,” he said.

As a junior
in high school, Orozco-Valdivia participated in LACMA’s high school internship program.
This year, he is one of ten college students selected for the first class of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation curatorial fellows working at five different museums around the country, including The Art Institute of Chicago, the High Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. 

According to a LACMA press release, the intensive program requires participation from fellows throughout their undergraduate careers and “seeks to make a critical impact on American art museums by developing gifted curators
who are committed to engaging with the full spectrum of museum audiences.” Open to first-year and sophomore students, the fellowship seeks individuals who support “inclusive, pluralistic museums” and are from underrepresented groups in the curatorial field. 

The multi-year fellowship functions as a continuous series of summer internships supplemented by hands-on work with programs, exhibitions and collections throughout the academic year. 

Stephen Little, the curator of Chinese and Korean art at LACMA, has been Orozco-Valdivia’s mentor
throughout his time there and preaches the benefits of the fellowship program. 

“This is a really great program in
that it’s focused on an ethnically diverse group of students,” Little said. “The Mellon Foundation has funded the program to give greater exposure to what museums are
capable of in arts and culture.”

Little himself grew up in
Asia and emphasizes the importance of diverse perspectives within the art
world. 

“It really benefited me to be mindful of other cultures and art, and I
see the same thing in Nicolas,” said Little.

Orozco-Valdivia agrees with such sentiment. 

“The museum world is still very white,” he said. “The
program’s intention is to bring underrepresented voices in the curatorial
field.”

The young artist discussed his passion for art history, exemplified in the steps he takes each week to commute to his internship. Orozco-Valdivia typically picks up a car from his family in L.A., drives it back to Claremont and leaves early for the Mid-Wilshire district in order to get lunch with
Little. During their days together, Orozco-Valdivia and Little pick each
other’s brains about art, explore the museum and physically handle the art
itself.

“The most
valuable thing I could do as a curator is give Nicolas the opportunity to get
a feel for the art and its textures,” Little said. “To understand a work of art, you have to be
in front of it.” 

Orozco-Valdivia also testified to the actual handling of art being the
most powerful part of his experience, speaking of the secret storage rooms of the
museum. 

“We would explore LACMA campus and open little unexpected doors,” he said. “It
was important for me to be able to handle the objects and physically make that
connection.”

Not only is Orozco-Valdivia able to discover new worlds within the museum, but he is also constantly
connecting his studies at the 5Cs with the art that is so accessible to him at
LACMA.

“In my class at Scripps, [we’d] talk about 17th-century painters in China,” he said. “Then I’d be at LACMA, and Stephen would take me to
see these very paintings.”

Little,
who himself is an adjunct professor of Chinese art at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is continually
impressed by Nicolas’ thoughtfulness and visual alertness. 

“He asks a lot of
questions; he’s good at connecting things that don’t appear to be connected, visually and intellectually,” Little said.

When asked about his aspirations, Orozco-Valdivia wasn’t completely sure, but he did know
one thing: He wants to use his unique point of view and upbringing to do
things differently.

“I want to use my duel legacy in Chicano arts and LACMA to find
ways to rethink things and choose my own path,” he said.

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