A man in a jacket and tie stands in front of a construction site

From Ackland Fellow to Museum Leader

“Museums have always been such a large part of my life. Since my childhood, public institutions have been extremely intriguing and important to me,” said Elijah Heyward III ’18 (Ph.D.), a former Royster fellow and American Studies scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill.

When the opportunity arose to apply to a fellowship at the Ackland Art Museum, Elijah quickly jumped at the opportunity.

He applied to the fellowship as a way to give back to the Carolina community in a tangible way while continuing to learn about museum operations and curation.

For the fellowship, Elijah became fully immersed as a museum educator and curator. He created different courses where he used objects and art as texts, worked on The Fever Within, the first-ever retrospective on Ronald Lockett, and he designed lesson plans and engaged with a variety of groups on campus and in the broader community.

Elijah’s proudest moment during his fellowship was curating a show titled, Beyond Walls: Designs for Twentieth-Century American Murals, which offered a glimpse into the logic and concerns of artists such as Charles Alson, James Henry Daugherty, Robert Motherwell and Ben Shahn. Elijah worked with an Ackland collection donor, Hunter Allen, to curate the exhibition.

Originally from Beaufort, South Carolina, Elijah earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Hampton University and a master’s degree in religion from Yale Divinity School before coming to Carolina to pursue a doctoral degree in American studies. He said the Ackland fellowship was unlike anything he had ever done before, and he is grateful he had the opportunity to take part in something so meaningful.

“Being a fellow at the Ackland was an invaluable experience. It allowed me to build an amazing foundation that I will cherish forever and be able to use throughout my career.”

That “invaluable experience” has evidently paid off. Elijah is currently back in his home state, where he is the chief operating officer at the new International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. The museum will open in 2022.

Elijah Heyward III, COO of the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, shown above in front of the construction site for the museum, which is slated to open in 2022. It is built on Gadsen’s Wharf, where up to 40% of all American slaves disembarked from the ships that brought them to this country. The future International African American Museum is shown in an artist’s rendering, below. 

Artist's rendering of a glowing waterfront building at night