Museum Studies Alumna Earns Lifetime Achievement Award from Association of African American Museums

Lina Stephens '02 is the chief curator at Detroit's Motown Historical Museum

August 24, 2010

University of the Arts alumna Lina Stephens MFA '02 (Museum Exhibition Planning and Design), the chief curator at the Motown Museum in Detroit, earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of African American Museums at its annual conference held in Pittsburgh, Pa., earlier this month.

"My first reaction (to winning the award) was 'I'm only 51 years old; have I done enough to receive this award?'," the Motor City native wondered. "Throughout the constant evolution of the museum profession, I have cultivated my desire to enhance my skills and share my knowledge with people who are interested in applying what I have learned to their own chosen path."

As the chief curator of one of Detroit's most popular tourist destinations since 2006, Stephens staged this summer's Jackson 5 exhibition of photos, awards and uniforms. During her tenure – her second stint at the Motown Museum – she has upgraded several exhibit spaces and was involved with the refurbishment of the museum's gift shop.

The museum, which is located in the one-time home of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. that he dubbed "Hitsville USA," was founded in 1985 by Esther Gordy Edwards – Berry's sister – and houses a collection of historical photographs, artwork, music, costumes and other memorabilia from the Motown heyday. Visitors walk through the fully restored apartment that was once home to the Gordys and stand in the original "Studio A," where Motown's greatest acts recorded their greatest hits. The museum is also home to the trademark jeweled white glove and black fedora hat donated in 1988 by the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

After graduating from Detroit's Center for Creative Studies with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing, Stephens began her professional museum career at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., as a conservation technician. A year into her post at Ford Museum, she became involved in a project that partnered the Ford Museum and Motown Museum. As Motown collections manager from 1993 to 1995, she consolidated the Motown collection from six locations to one for an extensive exhibit at the Ford Museum.

She then served in the position of special assistant of the executive director in Kansas City with the American Jazz Museum for two years before being promoted to collections and exhibitions director. She left that position in 2000 to pursue her graduate degree at the University of the Arts. During her studies in Philadelphia, she worked on projects with the Mutter Museum, Franklin Institute, Please Touch Museum and Philadelphia Maritime Museum. After a four-year stint as the exhibitions manager at the Detroit Historical Museum, where she installed 13 exhibits and upgraded several exhibition halls, Stephens returned to the Motown Museum as the chief curator after an 11-year absence.

Above: Stephens adjusts costumes from the Jackson 5 exhibit. AP Photo: Carlos Osorio.

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