The Mint museum’s new chief curator aims to expand the museum’s reach — and challenges visitors to look for the stories behind the art.
By Vanessa Infanzon
Jen Sudul Edwards wants museums to be a place for tough conversations.
The chief curator and curator of contemporary art at The Mint Museum believes museums have a responsibility to connect our history to the present. The Mint’s exhibits and programs provide the Charlotte community with informed content and a historical context, says Sudul Edwards, who moved to Charlotte from Los Angeles in 2015 to work at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. She started her new job at the Mint on July 1.
“Our teams make sure that no matter what we do, we are always thinking about how to continue these conversations,” she explains. “What is the history of Charlotte and the nation? How does that reflect with where we are now?”
Her interest in visual and cultural literacy — the way we view artwork — drives how she approaches her work. Sudul Edwards encourages visitors to find the story behind the work by considering what the artist was trying to do or show with the piece — to think about the composition and the sociopolitical and economic context.
“Visual literacy is being self-conscious when you look at something, and to be critical about what you’re seeing,” Sudul Edwards says.
Since joining the Mint, Sudul Edwards has helped launch a new program called Live at the Mint. On Wednesday nights at Mint Museum Uptown, the museum offers a lineup of performance art, gallery tours, artist talks, films and more.
In addition to her work at the Mint, Sudul Edwards curated W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine, a photo exhibit in Los Angeles that runs through Dec. 29.
Comments were edited for brevity and clarity.
What attracted you to this position?
I’m particularly excited because the museum has fine art, and it also has craft, design and fashion. My interest in art is pluralistic — that’s why I’m in this. I like that you can use all these different materials to create. This is one of the few museums that has an emphasis on all of those different ways of making. It wipes out that hierarchy of “painting and sculpture is way more significant than a dress or a clay object.” In fact, this museum puts them all at the same level, and that’s the kind of mind frame I want to be in.
Describe the spontaneous spaces you hope to bring to the Mint.
I really want us to be able to have smaller gallery spaces where we can show video or photography or these tight little focus shows that have a topical connotation.
Earth Day’s 50th anniversary is in April. I would love to do something about global climate change since that’s such an issue. The 19th Amendment centennial is in August, and I’d love to do some take on how the last 100 years of women being able to vote has somehow changed our perceptions.
What’s the Live at the Mint program all about?
We’re bringing in people from outside to do interesting things throughout the museum — performance, dance, film, music or lecture. It highlights the amazing and dedicated organizations such as the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Youth Orchestras of Charlotte, Charlotte Ballet, Charlotte Storytellers — we have a list of so many others with whom we want to partner.
We’re also bringing in talented individuals — [singer-songwriter] Mercury Carter and [professor] Eric Mullis from Queens University of Charlotte, to name a few.
Describe your project, W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine.
It’s an exhibition of photographs and videos examining the historic use and artistic treatments of walls throughout time and the world. The earliest work is 1897. It’s intense. We wanted a range of walls, and we wanted all continents covered. We didn’t want the show to just be about U.S. – Mexico; we wanted it to be about this obsessive need that human beings have to put up walls and barriers even though they don’t protect us. They just isolate and give us a false sense of security instead of addressing the actual problem. SP
Live at the Mint takes place Wednesdays through Dec. 11 at Mint Museum Uptown. Admission is free from 5-9 p.m.; programs begin at 6 p.m.