Danielle Hill didn’t visit the Cleveland Museum of Art until she was 17, but the institution has played a transformative role in the Maple Heights native’s life. Hill, 23, graduated from Sotheby’s Institute of Art at Claremont Graduate University in December with a master’s degree in arts management—and a mission to enhance the art world by providing access, opportunity, and education. Before moving to California, Hill was a Stewardship and Donor Relations Department intern at the Cleveland Museum of Art, while earning her undergraduate degree in arts management from Baldwin Wallace University.
Hill recently discussed the inspiration she found at the museum, the importance of community, and the artworks she must always see in Cleveland.
What role did art play in your childhood?
At daycare, one of my friends taught me how to draw Transformers toys, which were popular at the time, and after that I began to teach myself how to draw and paint. That led to me enrolling at Baldwin Wallace University to study arts management; I minored in studio art and art history. I noticed that the art history classes didn’t really talk about Black art, so I founded the Black Arts Network, and that was my community.
Why did you pursue arts management as a career?
It gives me an opportunity to lean on my creativity to manage and lead the spaces I admire.
What role did the Cleveland Museum of Art play in your life growing up?
In 12th grade, I applied to an organization called Future Connections, and they gave me an internship. That was my first time at the museum. I started working in the Education Department and took art classes. That was my first real art class. It really inspired me.
We also worked on a curatorial project, for which I picked an artwork and conducted a tour. I chose John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Lisa Colt Curtis. Every time I go to the museum, it’s the first artwork I seek out.
For one of my undergraduate classes, we had to interview someone whose job you wanted. I contacted the CMA’s stewardship and donor relations event manager. Later, I ended up working in that department as an intern and was hired before starting graduate school.
What were your responsibilities in that position?
I did a lot of work with donor events. At a Collection Insights program, I remember a donor saying it was “super-magical.” Those are the experiences I want to create. I supported the department’s recognition program and worked closely with the donor travel program—namely, organizing a curator-led trip to Detroit.
As a young Black woman entering the field of arts management, how do you think museums can be more inclusive?
It goes back to community. The CMA is situated on the edge of East Cleveland and Glenville; that’s an audience right there. Museums need to be involved in their communities in ways that are genuine and intentional. It goes with hiring, too. Museums must make those they hire, and the audience, feel like they can be themselves in those spaces. For example, when I worked in the Philanthropy Department, I was able to express myself through my clothing, hairstyles, and conversations, which contributed to my ability to work confidently.
What other works must you visit in Cleveland?
Robert Pruitt’s Rage Against Machine. I was especially thinking about it after the murder of George Floyd. There’s also a Hughie Lee-Smith painting I love called Rooftop. I would also encourage everyone to visit the Museum of Creative Human Art co-founded by Antwoine Washington.
What are you working on next? We hear you have social media channels.
After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, I went to social media to honor Floyd and discuss how often this happens. I aim to fuse my interests in Black art history and social justice. I want to continue talking about Black artists who center their work on Black people, social justice, race, and theory, as well as conducting conversations with Cleveland artists. These discussions continue at daniellehill.squarespace.com. I started working at Mayfield Senoir School as the development coordinator in March. I am excited to continue engaging in art and development in this chapter of my life.
Case Western Reserve University graduate Lauren Lew served as the Stewardship and Donor Relations Department intern at the CMA during her senior year. The stewardship skills she honed first landed her a job with the New York Philharmonic. Lauren’s career has continued to flourish; she now works at Teach for America in Individual Giving.
What role did art play in your life growing up?
When I was a child, my mother had to drag me to museums. It was not until middle school that I found myself falling in love with the arts. Once in college, all I ever did when I traveled was visit museums. Art became the sincerest yet most enigmatic way in which I came to understand myself and the world. Through art, I have grown and learned more about my sense of purpose.
You pursued a bachelor’s degree in nutrition at Case Western Reserve University. How did the arts support your studies in another discipline?
The arts improved my college experience by providing balance. There were many days when I was cooped up in the library for hours cramming biochemistry pathways, and times when I felt I could not catch up with my own racing mind. In those moments, I always found myself grounded again by crossing the street and spending an hour at the CMA. It’s amazing that the museum, always free and open to the public, could carry such a sensation of serenity. So, I can’t thank the CMA enough for being my magical home in college.
What were your responsibilities as an intern at the museum?
I served as the stewardship and donor relations intern at the CMA during my senior year of undergrad. My principal duty was to assist the philanthropy team in planning and executing donor events. My tasks included coordinating with vendors, like caterers and florists, mailing invitations and collecting RSVPs, and being the ultimate helping hand on the big day of an event. It was such a joy to make art a centerpiece of celebration.
How did your work at the museum set you up for success in your career?
My time at the CMA built a foundation of stewardship skills that helped me break into the world of philanthropy in New York City. Entering into the New York art scene was intimidating, especially without many direct connections. But in my interviews, I was always able to highlight the event planning and donor relations experience I gained at the CMA. This ultimately helped me land my first job in donor relations, at the New York Philharmonic!
What is your favorite work in the collection?
This may be a cliché, but I love J. M. W. Turner’s The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. I can never take my eyes away from it.
Why did you embark on a career in philanthropy after graduation?
My decision to pursue philanthropy was heavily tied to my initial goal when entering college: to gain a skill set to help empower and heal others. I came to understand that my greatest sense of healing was through immersing myself in the arts. Knowing the universally transformative power of the arts, I wanted to be in a position where I could help this entity to be accessed and appreciated by all. Working in this field, I can share and speak about what I love most, and in return, that propels my community to support the arts, a life-changing treasure. Truly, it is my dream job.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about CMA internship opportunities.
Cleveland Art, Spring 2021