Curating deCordova

Curatorial Fellow, Haley Clouser, discusses a day in the life of a museum curator.

Haley Clouser, deCordova's Curatorial Fellow, joined the museum in October 2021 after formative years at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, where she provided key research for the pioneering exhibition, The Dirty South.

Since 1950, the halls and hills of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln have been home to a diverse and compelling array of contemporary art. From the time of The Trustees integration with deCordova in 2019, our work protecting and celebrating this 30-acre park and museum has been possible thanks to generous Founders Circle members like you.

Summertime at deCordova is brimming with exciting events and programming for audiences of all ages, all season long. Don’t miss the beloved summer performance series; three family picnic nights; a live performance by New England Triennial artist Heather Lyon, The Weight of Water, on July 16; and much more.

In addition to these extraordinary events, we are proud to celebrate the recent opening of Melvin Edwards: Brighter Days, deCordova’s first major outdoor exhibition in several years, which showcases six of the acclaimed artist’s large-scale sculptures. Gleaming and strong amidst the lush, green lawns of the Sculpture Park, these works offer a focused look at Edwards’ artistic accomplishments from the past 50 years and invite deep reflection on his abstract examinations of connection, race, labor, and the African Diaspora. The exhibition was first shown in New York and has been organized for display at deCordova by curatorial fellow Haley Clouser.

Read on for a Q&A with Haley, where she provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a day in the life of a museum curator as well as exciting updates on upcoming exhibitions at deCordova.

Thank you for your generous support of deCordova and The Trustees as a member of the Founders Circle!

What brought you to deCordova and The Trustees?

I received my master’s degree in art history with a concentration in museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2019 and subsequently interned and became the Samuel H. Kress Interpretive Fellow at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), which is where I got my first taste of curatorial work.

After some time they hired me as an exhibitions research assistant and I worked on an exhibition called The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse, where I assisted with coordinating installations around the building, as well as researching and writing sections of the exhibition catalog.

After that, I was independently curating outdoor and indoor exhibitions and writing about contemporary art for publications like Burnaway, but I wanted a job where I had more of a say in what was happening with a particular show, which is when I found this fantastic opportunity at deCordova.

My fellowship is a two-year position, which I started in October 2021. It’s been an incredible opportunity to work on group exhibitions, assist deCordova Senior Curator Sarah Montross with larger exhibitions, and curate my own permanent collection exhibition.

Can you describe a typical day for a curatorial fellow at deCordova?
Every day you have a different task to do that you probably will never do again because every exhibition is unique. Earlier today, I was working with our graphic designer to finalize the layout for an essay I wrote and liaising between the graphic designer and the print company to make sure everything is printed correctly. The brochure is a supplement to our PLATFORM series – this iteration is for Rosemary Laing’s exhibition, Prowse.

Today, I also spoke with Sarah about the upcoming show, New Formations. We discussed how we will activate and engage audiences around the show’s theme: bodies in performance, movement, and procession.

As a curator, you’re working with artists to apply your research and design skills to an exhibition. There’s a lot to do every day, coordinating with people inside and outside of the museum.


Working in a sculpture park, there are no hallways or distinct ways of circulating within a gallery, so that was a new obstacle for me as well—how do we lead visitors through an open space, while outlining the chronology of the exhibition.

– Haley Clouser, Curatorial Fellow

Melvin Edwards, "Homage to Coco" (1970)

You recently coordinated Melvin Edwards: Brighter Days. Congratulations! Can you walk us through that process?
Melvin Edwards was one of the artists at the show I worked on at the VMFA, so I already understood his story and the importance of his work.

I worked with the Public Art Fund, who organized the original exhibition in New York City, to transport these several-ton sculptures to deCordova. Myself, along with our preparator and registration team, Christine Granat, Ross Normandin, and Lindsey Parker, all had to determine how the landscape affected the display of the art and where the sculptures should be placed while also working with installers and crane operators to answer questions like, “Can this heavy sculpture sit safely on this incline? Or does it need to move a few feet in a certain direction to be safer?” And, “Can these cranes even securely go into the park and on the grass?”

When I came to deCordova, I did have some experience with outdoor public art, so this wasn’t completely new. But it was a very new experience getting to select where they go, understanding the landscape of the park and how it affects where we display each object. And it’s wonderful for deCordova—they haven’t had an outdoor exhibition of this scale in many years, so it was a new experience for all of us on the team to decide how to curate the two main lawns.

Working in a sculpture park, there are no hallways or distinct ways of circulating within a gallery, so that was a new obstacle for me as well—how do we lead visitors through an open space, while outlining the chronology of the exhibition. I really appreciated Sarah’s help throughout the process.

Melvin Edwards: Brighter Days was originally presented by Public Art Fund in New York City at City Hall Park, from May 4, 2021 – November 28, 2021.

What upcoming events and exhibitions are you excited for at deCordova?
Brighter Days opened earlier this month and will be on display until next May. In conjunction with the opening, we are hosting a Juneteenth Read-In on Sunday, June 19. The event will feature Boston Poet Laureate, Porsha Olayiwola. We’ll also have a Texas blues band playing music, which calls upon both Edwards’ Texas upbringing as well as the fact that Juneteenth originated in Texas.

Melvin Edwards’ late wife, Jayne Cortez, was a famous poet and much of Edwards’ work was informed by her poetry. Although the works on view don’t have these direct influences, we hope that the read-in can honor that connection.

And we’re very excited to have Melvin Edwards and Daniel Palmer, from the Public Art Fund, in conversation here at deCordova on August 19. They will discuss their experience working with one another and creating the show in New York.

For myself and my curatorial fellowship, I’m working on an upcoming video installation in the museum and selecting a New England-based contemporary artist to create a site-specific sculpture next spring and summer. My entire time at deCordova has been so enriching and I’m tremendously excited about the projects to come.


The deCordova Curatorial Fellowship is a funded position made possible through the generous gifts of donors like you. Thank you!