What is a Curator?
Maybe you've heard the term, it gets thrown around in conversation a lot, but you've always wondered exactly what it meant. So, what is a "curator"?
The dictionary defines the word "curator" as: noun 1) the person in charge of a museum, art collection, etc.; 2) a person who selects content for presentation, as on a website; 3) a manager; superintendent.
A curator is a term that can apply to a variety of fields. The title can be used to describe an individual who oversees a number of things: like a collection in a museum, content on a website, music for a music festival, and items featured in a fashion show.
So, how does it relate to art, specifically "visual art"? Typically, a curator is hired to conceptualize a show and creates a mission for it. That's where they start. Once a curator has an idea and a direction for the exhibit, they are responsible for finding and procuring that artwork that directly supports that mission for the show.
Step one? Have space for your art show. Gallery, museum, lobby of a theater or business building. Heck, you could curate a show on a blank wall in a retail store, salon, barber shop or hallway!
The work you feature in a show could come from a variety of places. Maybe an art agent, a private collector, on loan from another museum or gallery, or directly from the artists themselves. There are times when a whole collection may come from one individual owner.
A curator’s job is like a movie director’s, they oversee every detail of the production - so it helps to be extremely organized and work well with others. The logistics of acquiring the art and installing it properly (with appropriate lighting and consideration of the pieces around it) is a huge task. It requires an organized person with a vision!
Once the artwork is installed, a curator oversees all text that accompanies the exhibit, including the artwork labels and any other text that accompanies the works. The curator makes sure that the show's "voice" stays in line with the original vision/mission.
Marketing materials are also an important detail for a curator, conveying the tone and specifics of the exhibition to potential audiences.
When the show is ready, the curator will often attend the opening night reception (nice perk of the gig!). Additionally, the curator will sometimes speak about the process to guests and answer questions in a "curator's talk" or "curator's tour". This gives visitors an inside view of the decisions, challenges and complexity of the process.
After opening night, the curator is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the show and often times, the maintenance of the artwork. Making sure the works are properly taken care of and the exhibition space is clean.
Programming is another whole other portion of the exhibit that a curator could have a hand it, depending upon the space. Symposiums with artists? Lectures? Classes, workshops, or masterclasses? A curator can be involved with the events and activities that surround a particular show, particularly because they have the best idea of who the audience is for the exhibit and how best to engage them.
Once the show is over and the artwork is returned, they're on to the next one! Being a curator is a huge job, requiring attention to so many different details. But, ultimately rewarding when you see a project from inception to completion.