Mellon Curator of Contemporary Art

Posted on 05/06/2021

Mellon Curator of Contemporary Art
Philbrook Museum of Art – Application Deadline: Open until filled 

Philbrook Museum of Art is a vibrant cultural institution in Tulsa, Oklahoma that typically welcomes over 120,000 visitors each year. Oklahoma is home to 39 Native nations—the most of any in the United States—representing various cultural regions including the Eastern Woodlands and Plains, among others. Tulsa has one of the highest percentages of Native populations in the country and is at a confluence of three tribes: Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), and Osage.

A 1920s Italianate Villa nestled in 25 acres of designed gardens, Philbrook features a dynamic and ambitious program of rotating exhibitions and galleries with selections from an actively growing collection of approximately 16,000 objects, about 5,000 of which are from Native North American artists. With artworks from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe dating from 3,000 BCE to today, Philbrook is Oklahoma’s most comprehensive art museum and offers visitors a glimpse into a broad range of cultures, time periods, and perspectives. The diverse collection supports a vision of Philbrook as central to the lives of our community as a place for learning, inspiration, and fun. Through bold action and strategic investment, we create a space for new ideas, diverse perspectives, and social connection.

The Philbrook Gardens include five major gardens, five smaller gardens, four historical structures, 17 works of art, an urban forest numbering over 1,000 trees, and Crow Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River. An apiary, Victory Garden, and “Secret Garden” provide honey for the museum shop and fresh produce for area food banks. The Gardens have been a growing emphasis for the institution in recent years but will be a keystone of the museum’s programming in 2022-23. 

Philbrook holds the visitor at the core of its mission, which is to make a creative and connected community through art and gardens. Philbrook recognizes that integral to our own mission is to seek out, learn from, and support those already engaged in community building efforts. Our own efforts toward creating a safe place for belonging, learning, inspiration, and fun begins with transparency and accountability to our institutional values:

  • Creativity: We regard learning, creativity, and the investigation of ideas as a vital, life-long pursuit. We advocate for inquiry, debate, play, experimentation, and collaboration in all our activities, programs, and practices.
  • Wellbeing: We believe art and gardens are essential to the physical and emotional wellbeing of our community. We create and support opportunities for relaxation, inspiration, reflection, exercise, and fun.
  • Relevance: We embrace our role as civic influencers to spark dialogue and promote positive change; increase access to diverse ideas, cultures, and perspectives; champion social justice; and be relevant and welcoming to all.
  • Sustainability: We strive to employ sustainable practices to preserve our collection, campus, and environment for future generations. We exercise fiscal responsibility to ensure short- and long-term viability and maximize our impact.

Position Overview
Philbrook Museum of Art seeks applications for a three-year appointment as Mellon [open rank] Curator of Contemporary Art. Candidates with all levels of curatorial experience are encouraged to apply, as this position may be filled as an Assistant, Associate, or full Curator. With three curators devoted to collaborations with contemporary art and artists, twenty-first-century art is a cornerstone of the Museum’s program, which includes acquisitions, commissions, and exhibitions as well as innovative forms of engagement with artists, the institution, and our community.

The Mellon Curator of Contemporary Art will play a leading role in this vital program intended to expand the canon of contemporary art beyond the boundaries of traditional Western narratives. The Mellon Curator will be dedicated to promoting, supporting, and nurturing the work of contemporary artists from diverse backgrounds, with an emphasis on Native artists and on artists engaging with land, gardens, and nature. Working in collaboration with the curatorial team and under the general direction of the Deputy Director for Audience Engagement & Curatorial Affairs, the Mellon Curator will develop one large exhibition and 2-3 smaller exhibition projects that align with the broader artistic and civic goals of the Museum, particularly by developing content and experiences within the Philbrook Gardens that advance creativity and a more connected community. Additionally, the Curator will collaboratively develop and present public programs, partner with Native artists and communities across North America on projects designed to highlight groundbreaking Native artistic practices, creatively engage the Museum’s gardens in particular, and emphasize contemporary relevance and vitality for visitors.


  • Outreach & Visibility: Nurture mutually beneficial relationships with artists, gallerists, donors, collectors, critics, writers, and other colleagues locally and nationally. Stay current with the field of contemporary and Indigenous art and artists, including new and emerging artists as well as broader trends and developments. Participate in planning and presenting programming related to Museum’s donor and collecting groups.
  • Research & Exhibition Development: Conceptualize and organize one major exhibition and 2-3 installations with relevance and appeal to local audiences. Seek out artists from a range of backgrounds and support artistic practice at all levels. Build meaningful relationships with local, regional, and national communities. Effectively engage and grow Native Advisory Council as appropriate. 
  • Collection Development & Stewardship: Actively and strategically grow the collection through purchases, commissions, and gifts. As appropriate, contribute to the ongoing creation of the comprehensive catalogue of Philbrook’s collections, including verifying, correcting, and augmenting existing collection records.
  • Collaboration & Administration: Collaborate across the institution to support efforts in fundraising, education, collection care, programming, public relations, and communications. Develop and administer annual operating budget, as well as project-specific budgets, for exhibitions and other special programs as assigned. Mentor and supervise interns, curatorial fellows, and volunteers working with artists or the collection.
  • Attendance: Maintain prompt and reliable attendance in order to successfully perform the duties of the job, including weekend and evening hours for events and programs as needed.
  • Programming: Create innovative programs geared toward both targeted audiences and a broad general audience. Present information to docents, collectors, interest groups, or other organizations in the form of lectures and public programs within field of expertise.
  • Evaluation: Embrace the evolving relationship between museums and their audiences and use evaluative methods to better understand and serve those audiences. Participate in evaluation of programs on an ongoing basis and respond appropriately to feedback to ensure a successful process of continual improvement.

The ideal candidate brings a commitment to audience-centered curatorial practice, an aptitude for cross-departmental collaboration and teamwork, and experience or interest in working with outdoor or public art. Applicants affiliated with an Indigenous community are encouraged to apply / preferred.


  • Highly articulate, with excellent writing and public speaking skills. Able and willing to engage a broad range of constituents including community members, academic audiences, general visitors, artists, collectors, dealers, and potential donors
  • Creative, open-minded, and committed to innovative museum practice
  • Flexible and goal-oriented, with the ability to handle constantly changing priorities
  • Welcomes ideas from unconventional sources
  • Demonstrates keen cultural sensitivity
  • Diplomatic, kind, and gracious, with a sense of humor and innate curiosity
  • Familiarity with museum practices, including collections care, exhibition development processes, interpretation, and evaluation
  • Comfortable with personal computers and social media, including word processing, digital imaging, and database applications

Equivalent Education/Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in Native American / Indigenous studies, anthropology, art, art history, visual culture, or related field; Master’s or PhD preferred. Relevant experience may be substituted for a degree.
  • At least three years of related experience, including a record of accomplishment, as a community, museum, or public art curator or as a community organizer working in arts and culture
  • This position may be filled at the Assistant, Associate, or full Curator level, depending on education and experience.

Please submit a cover letter and resume to