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NewsMay 14, 2021

Bringing art history to life

Future art curator Jasper Sanchez '21 finds a place to bloom at Lesley

Jasper Sanchez at a podium

Jasper Sanchez has been curating his own life since he was in his teens.

Born and raised in Miami, he moved to Boston after high school with some friends.

“I had run away at 18 because I had a difficult coming out with my family and decided to move for my own comfort and independence as a queer individual. We are on much better terms now but if it wasn’t for that move, I wouldn’t have discovered the queer artistic community that I did in Boston.”

Once he was settled, he enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College and started taking classes to pursue a career in biotech. An elective art history course changed everything.

“I absolutely adored it. It really changed what I wanted to do with my life and my career.” He learned about Lesley’s partnership with Bunker Hill and transferred to our College of Art and Design in the fall of 2017 to pursue a major in Art History.

Sanchez plunged headlong into his new field of study, shouldering a full course load while working full-time as a barista in a Harvard Square coffee shop. He forged strong relationships within the Lesley community and with his professors, including Assistant Professor Stuart Steck, director of Integrated Studies at the College of Art and Design, and Professor and art historian Sunanda Sanyal.

Jasper Sanchez and Stuart Steck
Jasper Sanchez with Assistant Professor Stuart Steck

“Stuart has been a fantastic mentor — he’s encouraged me to embrace every opportunity,” says Sanchez. “And Sunanda, who was my thesis advisor, was also a fantastic mentor who taught me a lot about engaging with art critically and thinking beyond the limitations of our institution.”

“Jasper has a voracious appetite for learning,“ Steck observes. “When you meet someone and there's just some kind of internal fire that keeps them moving forward — something unquenchable. He's always grabbing hold of projects and pursuing them.”

An internship ignites a passion for public arts

An internship in public arts programming at Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, followed by a class on socially engaged art with Director of Community Engagement Katherine Shozawa, sparked a new interest in public art.

“Part of my thesis and my practice and what I hope to achieve with my career is being able to curate not just galleries and museums, but public art, or some sort of experiences that go beyond institutions and are much more involved with the community.”

Sanchez has continued to work with Shozawa on socially engaged public art projects around the Cambridge area.

“She’s taught me a lot about how art can be a community service as well.”

He credits the classes he took at our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with broadening the scope of his work at the College of Art and Design.

“I was reading into the work of these emerging queer Latinx artists and I had a lot to learn from queer history and queer theory from the 1970s,” he reflects. “I was definitely excited to take sociology, Latin American history, and other electives outside of the Lunder Arts Center, because they really informed my work.”

A study abroad course opened his horizons further.

“We went to Paris for one week after spending a semester learning about the history of Paris from an art history and European history perspective. I loved it so much that I wanted to go back for a longer time.”

A course in Paris leads to different kind of thesis

He learned that Lesley had a relationship with the American University of Paris and signed up for a semester abroad. He spent the spring of 2019 in Paris and lived in Europe for eight months, returning in the fall for his senior year with a new vision.

“I started in Paris because one of the elective courses I took in Paris was on curatorial studies and we had to develop our own plan for an exhibition,” he recalls, “and I came back from Paris really wanting to have my thesis be curatorial.”

Back at Lesley, he worked with Steck and Lesley’s Director of Exhibitions Andrew Mroczek to curate his senior show in a Lesley gallery. The working title was “Como Existir,” which translates to “How to Exist.” The show examined the complex process by which queer Latinx artists used their work to negotiate different social and cultural contexts.

“I saw how artists and makers like myself created as a means of survival,” Sanchez explains, “how vastly unique and underrepresented the work of emerging Latinx artists was.”

The COVID pandemic prevented the exhibit from opening in Spring 2020, but Sanchez completed his thesis and continued his research.

“In the past, curators and art historians were very different things and they were viewed very differently in the art world. But art history is really important because it informs everything that I think of when I engage with contemporary emerging art practice. I would argue that as much as new artists are creating and inventing things and innovating, a lot of what we look back on when we source and create is inspired by historical things.”

As Commencement approaches, Jasper isn’t breaking stride. He presented a paper at the Visual Culture Consortium's 13th annual undergraduate art history symposium. He’s joined the Boston LGBTQIA Artists Alliance as part of their curatorial cohort, and he’s working on an exhibition at Boston’s Distillery Gallery and planning for a post-graduate internship for a public arts program in New York City.

He dreams of getting a master’s or PhD in art history or curatorial studies.

“I love the opportunities I’ve had at Lesley to grow as an individual and to work with other people and work with scholars and academics,” he says. “I also want to bridge that with community art practice and not really pigeonhole myself into academia.”

He credits Lesley for giving him a place to grow and develop as a person.

“I feel that if you are proactive, and you are excited and passionate about what you do, and you look for these opportunities, you have the staff and the mentors and the resources available to make those things come true for you. Stuart joked to me once about how I did everything I could possibly do at Lesley, and I'm so grateful for it.”