Third-year UChicago student earns scholarship to continue study of Latin American art history

Beinecke Scholarship will support Amanda Chacón’s pursuit of a Ph.D.

University of Chicago College student Amanda Chacón has received a 2023 Beinecke Scholarship, a prestigious honor which will help her further her study of Latin American art history, which she intends to pursue through a Ph.D.

A third-year in the College majoring in Latin American and Caribbean studies, along with art history and anthropology, Chacón said the scholarship represents an investment in her studies of Indigenous identity. She hopes to someday work in museum curation and explore juxtapositions of Pre-Columbian and modern art. 

“This award means the world to me because it represents a genuine interest in the work I do and the topics I love,” Chacón said. “This award is also not just a culmination of my hard work, it is something that I would not have been able to receive without the help of those around me. Their support and belief in me has allowed what I see as the beginning of a new chapter of my research.”

First awarded in 1975, the Beinecke Scholarship enables students of exceptional scholarly promise to pursue graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The scholarship will provide her with $35,000, most of which will be awarded during Chacón’s graduate studies. 

From approximately 135 universities who are invited to submit a nomination, Chacón is one of 20 students to be selected. It is the fourth year in a row that a student nominated by the University of Chicago has won the award. 

Chacón’s mentors describe her as an inspiring scholar whose intellectual engagement exemplifies interdisciplinarity at its best. 

“I have had the privilege of working with Amanda in three very different courses and am animated by how she intuitively and gracefully draws methods, sources, and concepts from each to craft her own project,” said Diana Schwartz Francisco, an assistant instructional professor and program adviser in the UChicago Center for Latin American Studies. 

Originally from Raleigh, N.C., by way of Pembroke Pines, Fla., Chacón said her Venezuelan and Argentinian heritage and upbringing are integral to her chosen fields of study. From a young age, Chacón and her sister visited museums of all kinds, including several repeated trips to the North Carolina Natural History Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Chacón was enamored. 

“Museums have a way of teaching you incredible things about the world in new and exciting ways,” she said. “I feel that art can reflect cultural values, societal struggles, and personal expression. Presenting that information to a public audience in an accessible and ethical way has become my main academic and professional goal.”

At UChicago, Chacón has conducted art historical research with Professor Claudia Brittenham since she was a first-year student. Most recently, she contributed to Brittenham’s latest book,  “Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient America.” 

Brittenham has known Chacón since she was a first-year student, when she entered the College with a noticeable “seriousness of purpose.” As Brittenham’s research assistant, Chacón has done invaluable work, including transcribing lectures into English from Spanish and Quechua, a South American indigenous language. 

She has also pursued her own research at UChicago's Smart Museum of Art, first as an undergraduate researcher in the College Summer Institute and then as a Smart Scholar with the Museum's Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry. In both of these programs, she studied "Personaggio" (1963), a work by influential Ecuadorian sculptor and painter Estuardo Maldonado. 

“From her first up-close encounter with the iconography of Maldonado’s painting in the Smart storage room, Amanda has fully embraced the joy of discovery that comes with object-based research,” said Berit Ness, the Smart Museum’s associate director and curator of academic engagement at the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry. “Our partnership with the College and the College Center for Research and Fellowships (CCRF) activates the Museum as a critical site of learning and creates opportunities for adventurous, young scholars like Amanda to expand our own understanding of the collection.”

Brittenham said she finds Chacón’s research fascinating, particularly the ways in which it connects political and artistic environments in mid-20th century Ecuador to indigenous cultures and influences. 

“Beyond her focus on Ecuador, a much smaller country than many scholars in the field tend to focus on, her question of the relationship of modern and contemporary artists to ancient precontact indigenous tradition, is very understudied,” Brittenham said. “She's really identified this subject area in a way that I strive to get my graduate students to do. She’s in a place where she can really make an intervention as a scholar.”

Over spring break, with funding from the Smart Scholars Program, Chacón traveled briefly to Quito, Ecuador, where she went to numerous museums to study the Pre-Columbian iconographic references in Maldonado’s artwork.

She recently presented her research at a talk held by the Smart Museum on April 19, and at the UChicago Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 21. The funding she will receive from the Beinecke award will allow her to continue pursuing her research on Ecuadorian art, especially for trips to institutions in Quito and Guayaquil.

CCRF facilitates the annual Beinecke Scholarship nomination process. Once nominated, Chacón received extensive support from the CCRF Fellowships team, which supports undergraduates and recent College alumni through highly competitive national and international fellowships. 

“All of my experiences at UChicago have prepared me and helped me refine my academic pursuits,” Chacón said. “My fellow students have inspired me with their own stories and research goals, enriching my knowledge of the world and topics unfamiliar to me. Studying here has helped me focus on the topics I love and given me a means to express that love.”