Alumni Spotlight: Annette Becker
Director and Curator
Texas Fashion Collection, University of North Texas
Tell us about your job, and what you love most about it.
I currently serve as the head of the Texas Fashion Collection, a museum with nearly 20,000 historic and designer garments and accessories housed at the University of North Texas. I spend my time curating exhibitions and researching fashion objects, caring for the collection, and making the TFC’s holdings available to students, designers, scholars, and the public. I appreciate the never-ending opportunities to learn both through scholarly projects and through the personal connections that people create with the pieces in the TFC’s collection. And, perhaps because I grew up in rural western Kansas where cultural opportunities aren’t always abundant, I enjoy providing public access to important and beautiful objects!
Describe your path from KU to your current position.
Following my graduation from KU in 2011, I found a wide range of opportunities that surprisingly all inform the work I’m currently doing. I spent a summer as a fellow at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts and researched eighteenth-century wigs and hairdressing. Then I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to work in arts education at the theatre non-profit Kentucky Shakespeare, serve as a gallery assistant in Art Sparks! at the Speed Art Museum, and work as an actress on a haunted train! I then lived in Chicago for a year, where I ran an afterschool program focused on arts-based education and tutored students. I then moved to Denton, Texas, to complete a master’s degree in Art History and work at the Texas Fashion Collection. Following graduation, I returned to KU for a year to serve as the Assistant to the Director at the Spencer Museum of Art (SMA), where I worked with Saralyn Reece Hardy and learned about executive leadership for cultural institutions. I also worked closely with many of the SMA staff, who taught me not only best practices for many aspects of museum work but also how to be a more thoughtful, ethical, and socially engaged person. It is through this combination of arts education, collections, leadership, and academic study that I can confidently lead a small museum at a university.
How did your KU education in art history prepare you for what you are doing now professionally?
I first learned about fashion history through an art history class at KU and will be forever grateful that the department offered this unique course that sparked my lifelong passion! Dr. Valija Evalds started the first day of class by telling students that though fashion might seem like a frivolous topic, it impacts every person every day. This approach to art history – that designed objects belong to, are shaped by, and important to people from all walks of life – connected my interest in art with my strong desire to engage in study that would be relevant to everyone. Even today, I make sure that the museum labels and book chapters that I write will contribute to an academic understanding of my topic but will also be readable and interesting to people outside the field, like my parents who are farmers in western Kansas. KU’s art history program allowed me to live in and celebrate both perspectives!
Why should a KU undergraduate consider majoring in art history?
KU’s art history department allows students opportunities to approach their research and their career development from a wide range of perspectives. The faculty are supportive of both traditional and less conventional research topics, and the Spencer Museum of Art and area cultural institutions provide great training grounds for young professionals interested in looking outside of the academy for their future careers.
Additionally, art history is an important field of study because it uses what is most visible to illustrate the most invisible parts of the human experience. Especially as our world becomes more driven by the visual, art history encourages people to think critically about what they see and how the world around them has been shaped. These skills can be applied everywhere from evaluating photographs in the news to considering philosophical perspectives presented in fine art.
Interview conducted by David Cateforis via email May 2017.