‘New Curators’ hopes to expand the landscape for curatorial practices in the UK

Rudi Minto de Wijs, Director, New Curators speaks to STIR about the initiative, its vision, and how it is aimed to make visual arts more diverse.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Jan 21, 2023

I personally feel that the word ‘curator’ is the most abused one. I am all for a broad spectrum of inclusivity and keeping the boundaries blurred. But somehow, I am not able to get around the need for everyone to call themselves a ‘curator’ when in reality the role they play does not meet the basic requirements of one. Is the curator a tastemaker? Or do they only put things in context to allow viewers for a cohesive experience? Could they be telling a story themselves, by not creating visual art, but in fact, uniquely weaving works created by others?

‘New Curators’ is launched as a training program based in London (UK). It focuses on education for the socio-economically weaker sections of society. They explain, “We know that training to become a curator is expensive and entering the profession can be difficult. Little wonder our industry is often seen as elitist and characterised by a lack of diversity. We want to help make the art world more accessible and equitable because we believe this will make it richer and more relevant”.

It is appropriate that the route to achieving this is through building a better infrastructure, and a significant aspect of it is curatorial practices. I speak with Rudi Minto de Wijs, Director, New Curators on the initiative and its vision.

Baku Museum of Modern Art | New Curators | STIRworld
Baku Museum of Modern Art Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rahul Kumar: The definition of the term ‘curator’ has undergone a change over the past decade. Could you elaborate on what you consider to be the role of a curator in the context of contemporary visual arts?

Rudi: Curator used to mean a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection, responsible for acquiring, caring for and developing a collection. This involved distinguishing between which artists and objects were worthy and which weren’t according to established ideas about quality and connoisseurship. Today, the pitfalls of this approach and resultant ‘gate-keeping’ are well documented and the definition of a curator is much more expansive than ever before. At New Curators, we believe a curator is someone engaged with art and culture in a wide variety of ways, committed to reflecting the complexities of society through collection building, but also exhibition-making, commissioning artists, performance programmes, film screenings, publications and public events.

Journey Art Exhibition at fortyfivedownstairs gallery in Melbourne  | New Curators | STIRworld
Journey Art Exhibition at fortyfivedownstairs gallery in Melbourne Image: Stefano Canturi; Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rahul: What triggered the need for this new initiative? How will it “diversify the profession and create more inclusive, reflective, and relevant arts infrastructures to better serve artists and audiences”?

Rudi: We know that training to become a curator is expensive and entering the profession can be difficult. We also know our industry is often seen as elitist and characterised by a lack of diversity. We want to create an accessible pathway into the profession for a wider range of people who in turn will go on to help shape richer and more diverse exhibition programmes, acquisitions policies, events and publications, gradually helping to transform the art world. Art is for everyone and it is important artists and audiences feel their experiences and perspectives are not only understood but also reflected in arts organisations if they are to be relevant for the future.

Kerryn Greenberg, Rudi Minto de Wijs, Mark Godfrey (L-R) | New Curators | STIRworld
Kerryn Greenberg, Rudi Minto de Wijs, Mark Godfrey (L-R) Image: Gift Gwambe; Courtesy of New Curators

Rahul: Further, the recent training program launched is focussed to include people from “lower socio-economic backgrounds”. Why this specific emphasis?

Rudi: The curatorial profession is currently dominated by people from higher socio-economic backgrounds because the profession has historically demanded a high level of specialised and expensive education. Opportunities are also frequently advertised by word of mouth effectively locking out those who are not well-connected. New Curators seeks to give a leg-up to people who have not had the same level of support to thrive in modern society as those from upper- or middle-class backgrounds.

Art district Beijing, gallery view | New Curators | STIRworld
Art district Beijing, gallery view Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rahul: Please talk about the partners in the network of New Curators, their roles and motivations to support the initiative.

Rudi: New Curators is establishing a network of non-profit contemporary arts organisations ranging in scale and type in the United Kingdom and internationally. The New Curators Network will enable New Curators participants to learn about a wide range of arts organisations and gain a better understanding of the various types of organisations and roles in the sector. Over the course of a morning or afternoon, the Associated Organisation will host a visit from New Curators. During this visit, staff from the Associated Organisation will give informal presentations to New Curators introducing the Associated Organisation, their role and any current projects or priorities that may be relevant to the education of emerging curators and New Curators will have an opportunity to ask questions. Whenever possible, visits to associated organisations located in the United Kingdom will take place in person while meetings with international organisations will occur virtually. The associated organisations recognise the importance of diversifying the curatorial profession and are, in different ways, grappling with how to do so themselves. By supporting and collaborating with us we are able to realise this shared vision. 

Visitors to the TIMEBAG Art Show snap photos of the works displayed at the event | New Curators | STIRworld
Visitors to the Timebag Art Show snap photos of the works displayed at the event Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Rahul: And finally, how will the initiative benefit from the influence of the three directors that are leading New Curators – Mark Godfrey, Kerryn Greenberg, and yourself? 

Rudi: All three directors offer a wide range of different experiences. That includes but is not limited to professional, differing protected characteristics, generational differences and cultural/lived experience. These will enable us to equip the cohort with varying degrees of knowledge and mentoring. We aim to not only be able to teach the cohort but also equip them with other skills that other learning environments may not provide. It is important to us that the leadership is as diverse as the cohort and in being so 'practises what it preaches', so to speak.

Students’ works at a juried exhibition | New Curators | STIRworld
Students’ works at a juried exhibition Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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