Leopoldo Peña, 2017 Public Fellow

Spanish and Portuguese PhD student Leopoldo Peña worked with the Laguna Art Museum as part of the Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program in 2017.

I worked with the Laguna Art Museum under the direction of Marinta Skupin, Curator of Education. One assignment consisted of filling out a public programing schedule. For this assignment, I researched films and contacted faculty members within the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and outside UC Irvine. My responsibility was to find films and speakers for film-night screenings related to the museum’s exhibition: Mexico/LA: History into Art, 1821-1930. The exhibit is part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

Working as a programming assistant was a rewarding and surprising experience. For one, it allowed me to interact with my own professors in a way beyond the grad-student/professor relationship. Basically, the assignment allowed me to act as a professional and request my professors’ expertise for an application outside a strictly academic setting. The assignment also pushed me to network and find colleagues outside UC Irvine.

A second assignment consisted of doing research and photographic documentation as a liaison to Pablo Vargas Lugo, a Mexican artist commissioned by the museum for an installation during Art & Nature 2017. I was constantly in touch with Pablo and helped him locate equipment and technicians for the construction of the installation: Seaspace. As an assignment, it was another great learning experience. It allowed me to work with a renowned contemporary artist and exposed me to the workings and complications of modern art production.

For those interested in working in academia and doing social work/public scholarship, a Public Fellow position is an encouraging and edifying experience. It was so for me. In a time when job positions in academia are scarce, I am convinced that public scholarship can open doors and other avenues of professional work; or better yet, a Public Fellow position exposes one to other niches within academia from which one can work as an academic and a socially engaged scholar.

The Humanities Out There Public Fellows Program gives humanities graduate students the opportunity to intern with local cultural organizations. Public Fellows apply and expand their humanities research, writing and analytical capacities—skills developed in a PhD program—in a non-profit setting. The 2017 Public Fellows were supported by a grant from the Luce Foundation, as well as by donor and School of Humanities funds.