Behind the Scenes at the WFMA with curator Danny Bills

It has been said exhibition curation could be compared to making a movie. The curator is like a movie director, conceptualizing the exhibition and overseeing all production details, such as selecting artworks and arranging them in space, managing a skilled team, facilitating art shipping, setting dates, planning an opening event, and budgeting, writing, marketing, installing, and problem solving.

"Although many curators share a common purpose, there is not one singular process that every curator uses. As we lead up to major exhibitions, I will share with you my process. I hope to give you an insider perspective of art exhibitions and a personal connection to the museum experience." -Danny Bills, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections


Curator’s Clues: Café Con Leche Curates #3

WFMA curator Danny Bills gives student's from Cafe Con Leche an exhibition tour.

In the last post, I described the process of the collaborative project, Café Con Leche Curates, including the process of coming up with ideas, looking at artists’ works, designing the exhibit, and creating events and educational programming for the community. We are hard at work finalizing the content selection and design for the exhibit. 

As we progress toward the completion of this project, which culminates with an exhibition opening in May, let's hear from the student co-curators! 


  • The project so far has been very eye opening. I did not realize that there was so much work and details that go into planning an exhibit. I’m excited to see how our hard work and planning pays off! 


  • Something I've learned from this project is to appreciate the work put into exhibitions and art as a whole. I'm looking forward to contributing my voice into this exhibition, especially since I am able to find comfort in the art being chosen 


  • I really enjoy how we each get our input on deciding important factors. I also look forward to seeing the art coming from the artists we choose. 


  • So far it has been interesting learning about the process it takes to cultivate an exhibit. I am looking forward to seeing the art and how everything turns out. 

One of the participating artists from Houston is very excited about being part of the exhibition and educational programming:  

I’ve been reading about Café con Leche on their website, it seems a very interesting program not only for the young generation trying to get into college, but also for their parents as the kids can benefit from all the support around them.  In addition to working in my own art, I’m a high school art teacher and also a 12th grade level administrator, and I can see the struggles the students face. WFMA is doing an amazing job by supporting their vision! 

- Graciela Paz 

Stay tuned to learn about all the participating artists!  


What’s at the Museum now? 

The Museum’s main gallery spaces are currently closed for an important renovation, which postpones the opening date of the Cafe Con Leche Curates project from March to May. As we work toward this exhibition’s opening event, we still have two exciting exhibits on display. Check out these great exhibitions you can visit, explore art making in On the Wall Workshops and mark your calendar with other Museum events.


Curator’s Clues: Café Con Leche Curates #2

A strong group of students from Café Con Leche and I have been moving forward with our Community Project,  Café Con Leche Curates.  

In weekly meetings at the Museum, we have brainstormed what we would like to see in the exhibition and what we hope it accomplishes. My student co-curators used this experience to express ideas and themes relevant to their lives.

Artist Selection 

Together, we have invested time through the fall months learning about artists and their works and making first contact with artists. Many artists are excitedly interested in working with us, and the conversations with them have been very promising. The artists have been impressed with the mission of Café Con Leche in support of young people and their families and have expressed feeling honored to be considered for this project.

We will announce the finalized list of artists soon!

Exhibit Design and Interpretation

As important as the art curation aspect of an exhibition can be, the overall exhibition design deserves a considerable amount of thought as well. As a group, we are composing a myriad of texts that will complete the exhibition experience, for both our group of curators and future visitors to the exhibition. The students will make instrumental contributions to an exhibition introduction panel, subject vignettes for the walls, and individual education stations (perhaps). These elements help facilitate communication between artist and viewer, fulfilling part of the role of the curator.

There have been some changes to our dates though!

Overcoming Challenges 

As in any project, we have had to overcome challenges, which also offer valuable learning experience. The museum will be undergoing a significant renovation of the heating and air conditioning system in the galleries, with construction dates falling this spring. Improvements will enhance the sound quality and adjust air to move about more gently than it does now. This means you will be more comfortable during your museum visit. Behind the scenes, these changes not only will support the Museum’s ability to safeguard artworks by improving consistency in the temperature and humidity environment but also will make the spaces more conducive to displaying delicate types of art, such as unframed paper and textiles, which some artists may contribute to this exhibition!

Cross off March 5 and look to mid-May for this project’s debut!

Up Next 

Will the Museum be totally closed during construction? Thankfully, no. We will be open! Check out these great   exhibitions you can visit, explore art making in   On the Wall Workshops and mark your calendar with other Museum  events.

In the next Curator’s Clues, I am aiming to hear from the students!

Curator’s Clues: Café Con Leche #1

In this installment of Curator’s Clues, I am announcing an exciting collaborative project with a wonderful organization called Café Con Leche, kicking off during Hispanic Heritage Month! The Museum and Café initiated an impactful relationship in 2018 during the exhibition  Papel Chicano Dos: Works on Paper from the Collection of Cheech Marin.

According to Gonzalo Robles, founder of Café Con Leche, this exhibition and talk by collector and celebrity Cheech Marin made a significant impact on the students Robles mentors:

For the event and Exhibit, I had 27 high school and college students in attendance. It was powerful to  watch their body language and interest evolve from the beginning of the show to the end. As we exited  the theater to go to the exhibit at the museum, you could see a new profound pride displayed in their  posture and being. Their eyes were brighter, faces were full of smiles and their bodies stood taller with  shoulders back. You could sense their pride in our culture and the art that emanates from it. The students  learned more about Latino artists at the exhibit as they interacted with other informed art lovers. Since the  event, I’ve observed our students as more self-assured and prideful about themselves and their culture.  To conclude, I honestly do not think I can fully describe the impact or significance the lecture or exhibit  played in our students lives. One word to describe the evening would be ‘transformational.’

Cafe Con Leche is an organization that: 

…promotes a Culture of High Expectations and emphasizes the importance of Post-Secondary Education for ALL students in our communities. In addition, Cafe empowers families and community with specific demographic, educational, and economic tools to achieve their dreams for a better future.” Quoted from, accessed on September 11, 2021.

This year, the WFMA and Café Con Leche are partnering again to give college-bound high school students hands-on museum experience. Starting this Fall semester 2021 and running through the Spring semester of 2022, I will meet weekly with high school participants from Café Con Leche in an educational and vocational project that culminates in a co-curated art exhibition. This project supports the missions of both institutions; the WFMA as an academic museum that is part of a university as well as a dynamic part of community life, and Café Con Leche as vehicle to post-secondary education. 

These college bound students will help select, design, and coordinate an exhibition to open in March 2022. Participants will gain insight from me about how to execute a museum exhibition from start to finish by having direct interactions with artists, making contributions to the decision-making process, and learning about exhibition coordination and curatorial design. I hope students grow in self-confidence, curiosity, communication, and teamwork as well as become aware of possibilities to pursue museum careers. We look forward to sharing their voices with museum audiences in the exhibition and along the way. 

Cafe Con Leche logo I am looking forward to these next months and excited about all the new things everyone will learn, including myself!

Explore past exhibitions with Curator’s Clues

Art from the Collectors Circle: Expanding the Legacy

Follow the story of the WFMA Collectors Circle as curator Danny Bills prepares for the retrospective of artworks acquired by the museum’s Collectors Circle.

Quilt Journeys: Women’s Voices

Take a look at the WFMA quilt collection with Curator Danny Bills as he askes the question: How did they get here?

Color in Art, Color in Life: Prisms, Pigments, and Purpose

Join the process behind creating the exhibition  Color in Art, Color in Life as the WFMA curator explores color in art through phycology and artists Scottie Parsons, Roger Shimomura, and Roy Lichtenstein.

Image: Roger Shimomura,   Mao, 2016, lithograph. Collectors Circle purchase 2019.

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