A new training course for prospective curators from low socio-economic backgrounds has been launched by three former Tate specialists. “A lot of people who would love to curate don’t even try to enter the profession because the courses are so expensive,” says Mark Godfrey, former senior curator of international art at Tate Modern. He left the institution last year after publicly criticizing its decision to postpone the Philip Guston exhibition.
Godfrey will run the New Curators training program in collaboration with two co-directors: Kerryn Greenberg, former head of international exhibition collections at the Tate, and Rudi Minto de Wijs, who works in the institution’s marketing department and is its Black co-chair. , the Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) network.
Creating an inclusive profession
The cost of a master’s degree, which has traditionally been the minimum requirement for a curatorial job at an institution like the Tate, tends to limit the profession to people with privileged backgrounds. The Curating Contemporary Art MA at the Royal College of Art, for example, costs £14,175 for UK students and £33,600 for internationals.
The New Curators Course will be free to attend for UK and international students and will also provide up to 12 participants a year with a London living stipend to cover rent and other costs. Anyone with a BA degree or equivalent experience can apply to attend.
Lessons will focus on every aspect of a curator’s job, from organizing exhibitions to writing curatorial statements and budget proposals. It will also prepare students for some of the challenges they may face in their professional lives by using real examples such as the controversy in the latest edition of Documenta that included artworks with anti-Semitic depictions. “Students have to think about what decisions they would make if they worked in that organization: Do you reduce work? Do you put some text? How do you navigate the situation?” Godfrey says.
Students will meet a variety of curators, artists and other art professionals and will visit studios, galleries and museums in the UK and internationally. The aim is to give them a network of contacts and peers who can help them in their future careers.
The course will also include mentoring and mental health components to prepare students for the realities of working in the field. “How do you deal with difficult artists? How do you deal with rejection and how do you deal with a different environment where you feel under pressure to meet people from backgrounds very different from yourself? We work with organizations like Young Minds, a mental health charity, who want to help us. Mental health is a big part of building trust and allowing you to do good work,” says Minto de Wijs.
Network of institutions
A key benefit of the course is that participants will complete the year by organizing a major event at an important institution. First-year students, who will join the program in September 2023, will organize a major show at the South London Gallery the following summer. They will oversee every aspect of our exhibition production, from communicating with the artist to installing the work, writing press materials and engaging in community outreach.
In the following years, the exhibition will take place in other partner institutions. The course will also include real and virtual visits to various related organizations including Barbican and Studio Voltaire in London, Haus der Kunst in Munich, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, A4. The Art Foundation in Cape Town and the Sharjah Art Foundation in the UAE, among many others.
Teaching will be based at the South London Gallery (SLG) in Camberwell which has a long track record of community outreach and educational work. “We have a history of funding various trainings at SLG but we are not in a position to do something on this scale that is in line with the values of social justice and promotes a more equal art world,” says director Margot. Heller. “The progress has been surprising in many ways because the inequality of the art world is a systemic problem but we hope that this program will show people what is possible and will inspire others to do the same work. All the SLG staff are excited about hosting these students and working with them, ” he added.
To finance the program, the director made use of his network of contacts in the international art world. Founding donors include major museum trustees including the Tate and Courtauld Galleries in London, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
One of them is Miyoung Lee, a former financier who is vice president of the Whitney Museum in New York and also sits on the Tate’s North American Acquisitions Committee. “We really need a program like New Curators that will create a sense of tomorrow’s art. We can’t choose people from the same narrow pool again and again. We need to expand the pipeline so that we can hear more voices,” he said.
Paying students for their time has a transformative effect, he added. “At the Whitney, our summer internships used to be unpaid. We used to think ‘it’s an honor to work at the Whitney,’ but our blinders finally fell out and we realized it was a very self-selecting way of bringing only certain types of people into the museum. So, we ended up giving an internship program so that interns get paid and once we did it had a dramatic effect on who could apply.
The New Curators Course has a ten-year fundraising strategy, says Kerryn Greenberg. “This includes individuals but also philanthropists with full operational trusts and foundations and corporations to support our exhibition program. Over time, we are trying to diversify our funding structure. We are looking to have a truly transformative impact and to do that we need a certain amount of money; It’s expensive to put on a high-quality exhibition and give students an opportunity that will be transformative. It’s not a cheap program to run but we’re confident we’ll find the money,” he said, adding that the program has an ethical fund-raising policy in place because ” Young, ambitious curators take this seriously.”
The application process for the New Curator has been designed to be as inclusive as possible. It will not discriminate against those who struggle to express themselves in writing. Candidates will be asked to record an audio file of themselves talking about a “cultural object or event” that they believe is important. This can be an “exhibition, artwork, performance, publication, podcast, film, TV series, advertising campaign, music video, design, or fashion object,” according to the application guidelines.
“We’re looking for people who can explain what’s important and important” about the cultural events they choose to speak about and who “can demonstrate analytical thinking” in these communications, Godfrey said. “That’s what curators do: they choose things that you want to see and think about. That’s the main thing we look for in the application process.
The goal is to train 100 curators over the next 10 years. “We are thinking about different types of curation: there is the curation of large museum events but there are also small projects in spaces run by artists. We want to equip people to be really prepared and effective if they enter a large hierarchical institution but also effective if they want to start their own space.
• Application for the first New Curators course, which launched in September 2023, is now open. The deadline for applications is February 5, 2023.