Contemporary art and civic engagement. 

J. Gibran Villalobos is an arts administrator, curator, and educator focused on civic engagement and cultural policy. He serves as Project Manager for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). He has previously held posts as Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Public Programs and Partnerships Manager for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Cultural Liaison for the Chicago Park District, Curator-in-Residence for the Chicago Cultural Center, and Collections and Exhibitions Manager at the Department of Public Art in Glendale, Arizona. 

He has held post as Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Public Programs and Partnerships Manager for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, Cultural Liaison for the Chicago Park District, and Curator-in-Residence for the Chicago Cultural Center. 

In 2016 he attended the NALAC Advocacy Leadership Institute and was invited to the White House Office of Public Engagement, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to speak to issues affecting Latinos in Chicago. In 2017 he launched an inaugural summit of Latinx artists and administrators across the U.S; for this project he was awarded the Act Up Award by the Chicago Community Trust. His work has been presented at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano during the 2017 Havana Biennial. In 2019 he was an inaugural recipient of the Field Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago Award as well as the Americans for the Arts 2019 Leaders of Color Fellowship

In 2020 he was accepted to the Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy where he worked with government and nonprofit sector participants to think about effective policy for Chicago’s cultural industries. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Arts Administration & Policy. 

He has contributed to exhibitions such as Direct Message: Art, Language, and Power, presenting the artwork of Chicago artistic collectives and their relation to language and civic engagement. In 2019 he produced Common Exchange, an international convening, that brought together the Tate Modern, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Queens Museum, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, and other institutions to create dialogue on civic engagement within contemporary art institutions. 

During the challenging times of the COVID pandemic, his focus turned to how artists, scholars, and policymakers champion ecofeminism, architecture and water. In the two-day symposium Fractures: Creating Around Devastation contributors led discussions, performances, and livestreamed from various sites as throughline in the relationship between active practitioners and civic activity.

Gibran has written catalog entries for Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Rodrigo Lara Zendejas, and Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford. In 2015 he curated Orients, Greg Bae's inaugural Chicago exhibition after his year long residency in Seoul.  He contributed to the first retrospective on the work by artist Andrea Bowers focusing on the activism and archives from the grassroots coalition Centro Sin Fronteras. He has been a juror for the Chicago International Film Festival Out-Look series and been in conversation with artists and filmmakers. He has served as the 2022–2024 curator for the Low Residency MFA Graduate Exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gibran currently serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Artists Coalition, and previous founding member of the Auxiliary Board of the National Museum of Mexican Art. He holds a BA in Art History and a BS in Public Relations from Northern Arizona University and an MA in Arts Administration & Policy and MA in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Previous Work.

Interim Executive Direcgor, Chicago Artists Coalition

Assistant Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Lecturer, Department of Arts Administration & Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Partnerships and Community Engagement Manager, Chicago Architecture Biennial

Cultural Liaison, Chicago Park District

Program Assistant, Architecture & Design Society at the Art Institute of Chicago

Collection and Exhibitions Manager, City of Glendale Arizona

Selected Exhibitions.

Low Residency MFA Exhibition, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, July 2024

Low Residency MFA Exhibition, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, July 2023

Notes, Gonzalo Hernandez, Vigil Gonzalez Gallery, Cuzco, Peru, March 14, 2022

Low Residency MFA Exhibition, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, July 2022

Andrea Bowers, Centro Sin Fronteras Community Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Fall 2021

Almost There, Gonzalo Hernandez, Laundromat Arts Space, Miami, November 2021

Fractures: Creating Around Devastation, Symposium, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, March 2021

Direct Message, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, November 2019

Triptych Unloose, Chicago Cultural Center, July 2017

Jensen Formal Garden, Chicago Park District, Humboldt Park, Jensen Formal Garden, November 2016–May 2017

Orients: New Work by Gregory Bae, Chicago Urban Art Society, September 2015

Cuban Virtualities, Exhibition Organizer, Sullivan Galleries  February  2015

Artifice from the Cave, Chicago Artists Coalition, January 2017

Foggy Fantasies/Zones of Privacy, Chicago Artists Coalition April 2014

Resident Curator, HATCH Projects, Chicago Artists Coalition, September 2013–July 2014, Chicago IL

Washington Park Archive Project, Arts Incubator, August 2013, Chicago IL

Fernweh, Traveling Curator exchange, Deveron Arts, May 2013, Huntly, Scotland

Room with a View, November 2012, Chicago IL

Natural Light, Sullivan Galleries, October 2012, Chicago IL

Tamms Year Ten Campaign Office, Sullivan Galleries, October 2012, Chicago IL

Opening the Black Box: The Charge is Torture, Sullivan Galleries October 2012, Chicago, IL

SAIC MFA 2012 Exhibition, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, May 2012, Chicago Illinois

(Re)Pair, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, November 2010, Chicago, Illinois

Guadalupana Opera, Phoenix Art Museum, December 2009, Phoenix Arizona

ALAC Grand Opening, Latino Arts Center, November 2009, Phoenix, Arizona

Su Casita, Arizona Historical Society Museum, October – April 2010, Tempe, Arizona

Visions of a New America, Cuervo Gallery, September 2009, Phoenix Arizona

Southern Point, Raices Taller 22, August –September 2009 Tucson, Arizona

Western Overture, ALAC, May 2009 Phoenix, Arizona 

Graphite on Canvas, Glendale Arts Commission, January – March 2009 Glendale, Arizona

Tzompantli Redux, Bragg’s Pie Factory, October – November 2008 Phoenix, Arizona

Regrets, Sun Gallery, April – May 2007, Flagstaff, Arizona


Civic Leadership Academy Fellow
Harris School of Policy, University of Chicago
January 2020

Marion Kryczka Excellence in Teaching Award
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
November 2019

Leaders for a New Chicago
Field Foundation of Illinois
July 2019

Arts Administrators Fellows of Color

Americans for the Arts
May 2019

Act Up Award

Chicago Community Trust
July 2017

Propeller Fund Award

September 2016

Advocacy Leadership Institute Fellow

National Association of Latino Arts and Culture
May 2016

Faculty Enrichment Award
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
April 2016

Americans for the Arts Advocate Award

University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement

June 2015

Courses Offered.

Arts Organizations in Society

These days, all of the terms in the title of this course—‘art,’ ‘organizations,’ and ‘society’ have something of a question mark hanging over them. Artistic practice, always in motion, has in recent years been even more mercurial, diffuse and difficult to specify definitively. As for organizations, thinking (and, to a lesser extent, practice) during the past decade or two has increasingly taken note of discourses about complexity, emergence and improvisation in order to understand the ways in which traditional command-and-control models have become less useful or effective

 Primary questions, then, are such as: what do arts organizations do, and how and with whom do they do it? What are the propelling logics for current trends such as the interest in participation, self-organization, innovation and activism? What is the policy environment in which arts organizations are operating? What characterizes the interplays between artistic and economic forces?

How Grants Work.

Why do we pay artists? How do we pay artists? This course associates training in professional practices with an overview of social, political and philosophical contexts of the grant funding in the United States. The course approaches topics through a practical and theoretical lens to consider the operational relationship between granting organizations and administrative concepts regulate cultural systems. Through a robust practice of research, peer reviews, and a final mock grant application, students refine a personal approach to the ecology of grant writing.

The course is supplemented with conversations with practicing administrators from the executive director branch of organizations. The course is comprised of five phases that overlap with the germination of a grant application: Research, Narrative, Strategy, Evaluation, Final Report.

Listen to the Course Playlist.

This playlist was designed to correspond with course units to help practitioners recall and execute key aspects of grant writing techniques. 

City Maintenance

The concept of a city exists as a site for curatorial practice to develop new strengths, publics, and methods of intervening within cultural life. City management, and its operational infrastructure, presents a substrate for contemporary curators to consider how the presentation of art is challenged and championed by practical necessities. What if curators cared for people the way they care for museum objects? How do we refurbish the definition of curator, as an individual who cares for, in a contemporary context? Departing from texts such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles' “Maintenance Manifesto,” a study of Black Mountain College, to Marcos ERRE’s intervention into concrete roads, this course asks students to develop and analyze the capacity for curatorial projects that exist outside of institutional boundaries.

Selected Press.

"Contemporary art has always been deeply ingrained in Chicago's civic life. Art reflects stories and experiences, and has power to highlight marginalized voices whose stories must be heard. The policy issues that divide and unite us are inherently reflected in the lives, work, and interpretations of contemporary artists."

"As Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and a faculty lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Villalobos says, 'communities of color often view art museums and other cultural centers as elitist.' This, he says, 'is an opportune moment for institutions to revitalize connections to community organizations, aiming to bring the [museums] closer to the work done by civic and artistic communities.'”

"At the core of our mission we focus on developing a citizen or an individual that wants to participate in community, engage with the city, or engage with their neighborhood. This can all relate from rent regulation to youth development."

"On the last day, I took away messages of empowerment when many people openly voiced their ideas and frustrations with the cultural system. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, there were many success stories […] and first steps toward increasing general representation, support and education of our youth, and talks of cultural worker empowerment inclusive of educators and museum workers."