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Alumna art executive lifts up culturally diverse artists
Alumna Jeffreen Hayes on a visit to campus

Alumna art executive lifts up culturally diverse artists

Her work-study job at the Frost Art Museum in the 1990s reinforced the value of featuring the stories and works of artists of color - something she does in a recent PBS documentary.

June 14, 2024 at 4:00pm

Jeffreen Hayes ’00 had to convince her family that an undergraduate humanities degree from FIU was a worthwhile pursuit.

“My dad wasn’t happy with the decision initially because he didn’t understand the career path,” she says about her chosen degree program, which included a concentration in art history.  “He wasn’t sure how I would be able to support myself.”

As the first in her family to attend college, Hayes found herself under a lot of pressure to pick a lucrative career, even though she says her mother supported her dream and knew the arts would make her happy.

At FIU, Hayes had two professors who connected her with professionals in the museum industry, and she landed a work-study job at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at MMC.

“My experience at the museum was eye-opening in that it helped me understand the different roles in a museum,” Hayes says. “I gained valuable insight on what is necessary to run an arts organization and the teamwork that is involved.”

The opportunity also introduced Hayes to Latin American and Haitian art collections held by the Frost, where she saw such works exhibited. That fed her own passion for sharing the stories and works of diverse artists and eventually led her to Threewalls, a Black-led non-profit organization in Chicago where she has served as an art executive for more than eight years. The evolving arts space supports contemporary artists, and Hayes has made it her focus to help ensure their success by prioritizing mental health and wellness as well as pay equity.

Hayes returned to FIU this month to guest speak at The Wolfsonian about sculptor Augusta Savage and other artists who paved the way for women in the early 20th century.

Hayes explores in a PBS Masters documentary Savage’s career as a sculptor, art educator and one of the first Black women activists to advocate for the inclusion of Black artists in mainstream exhibits. “Searching for Augusta Savage” debuted earlier this year and builds upon Hayes’ 2018 curatorial project, “Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman,” featured in the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville.

“It’s been a labor of love to unearth all the aspects of Savage and to examine more than just her as a sculptor but to look at her as a whole person.”

Hayes is now hoping to inspire the younger generation interested in a career in the arts by telling them to be authentic and to listen to their intuition.

“Be grounded in who you are. Don’t cater to what you think the art world wants. Don’t be afraid to use your voice.”

Today, Hayes is using her voice to help communities understand more than just the finished product of an artist but also the process and person behind the big ideas.