What's it like to be a Curator?

About a month or so ago I went on Instagram and asked the folks that follow me for some blog suggestions… one of the topics mentioned was: what it's like to be a curator? - I decided to chose that suggestion for this post because a lot of people don’t really know what goes into being a curator - which doesn’t surprise me. Normally you don’t just meet curators out on the street. It’s a hyper-specialized position. So, this post is me trying my best to give an authentic look inside what exactly I do as a curator (and I’m selling free game to you future curators reading this):


My personal daily routine:

Wake up.

Thank God.

Stretch.

Take my vitamins.

Untie my durag.

Get my thoughts together. Maybe have a cup of coffee on a good day.

Brush my teeth (because who wants coffee breath)...

Wash my face, get dressed.

Put rings and a watch on my left hand like Thanos - I gotta be fashionable.

And then after all that I head to my worksite, wherever that might be that day.


From there my day could be filled with any number of activities. On a “normal” day, a curator such as myself usually has to think about three things at any point in time:

  1. Your exhibitions

  2. Field research

  3. Being a socialite

I’ll break each of those down.


Exhibitions:

At any given time, a head curator is responsible for AT LEAST three exhibitions. These include: A. the current show on display, B. the upcoming exhibition, and C. the one after that. (Sidenote: in my case it’s usually more exhibitions because I run two galleries and still curate independently, but imma keep it general right now).


Alright, so… the current show activities may include the following:


Giving a presentation to Baltimore Camera Club (photo by Roger Miller)
  • Giving a tour of the gallery to critics, curators, journalists, collectors, donors, students, the general public, and any number of other folks that may have interest in the exhibition,

  • Organizing and/or facilitating events relevant to the exhibition such as gallery talks, public discussions and panels... Recently, I was part of a podcast recording… (#FREEGAME: Each exhibition will be involved in a ton of events one way or another, so everyday you gotta check it for any maintenance because people will notice - just a quick 10-15 minute walk-through will do wonders.)

  • Also, you have to facilitate art sales and cut checks to different people including artists, installers, critics, invited guests, who knows… Just know you have to be good at tracking money.

Moving on...


In preparation for upcoming exhibitions, part of the day’s work might consist of:

  • Working on and finalizing budgets, securing artwork acquisitions for the exhibition, creating travel plans for artists and artworks, laying out floor plans… It’s a lot of logistical stuff...

  • You’ll also play a major part in creating and compiling marketing materials and deciding how you’re going to promote the exhibition.

This is definitely the hardest step, but if you move through this stage successfully, with any luck you’ll have a successful install, reception, and get some good foot traffic throughout the run of the show.


one of my most recent exhibition openings

Lastly…


For “the one after that” (the show following the upcoming show mentioned above): You’d be doing things like:

  • studio visits and brainstorming with artists

  • researching and studying the artist(s) whose work I’ll be exhibiting (as a curator it’s very important to be knowledgeable about the artists and their work).

  • Then you’ll start narrowing down ideas and deciding on content - choosing which artworks to include and the overall message or theme of the show.

#FREEGAME Every though you’re planning some shows a year or two in advance (sometimes even further out) it’s good to start planning details and financials as far ahead as possible. It's never too early to look into new equipment and potential expenses. That will prepare you for unforeseen issues.


Last thing: when it comes time to deinstall one show and install another all bets are off - you can pretty much guarantee that taking down one show and putting up another will take up a ton of your time and your other responsibilities will be pushed back. So, you have to prep for that.


I feel like that was kind of a lot to explain, so just let it digest for a second...


Okay, so next is: Field Research (or “R&D” as I call it - Research & Development, one of my favorite terms learned in business school):


These are a lot of the activities you’ll see me post about on my Instagram. They include: studio visits... going to see different exhibitions at museums and colleges… visiting different types of galleries (and for those of you that don’t know, there are many different types of galleries: non-profit, commercial or “for profit”, institutional/academic based galleries, pop-up spaces, the list goes on...). As a curator one of your jobs is to basically go anywhere that’s poppin’ and can keep you abreast of where culture and society are at… It might even lead you to that next artist you want to collaborate with.


And that brings me to the last point:


Being a socialite:


Parts of this profession include being a public face. Politicking with folks in-person. Traveling to kick it with people you’ve never met. Sometimes six hours out of my day include traveling to different cities/towns/wherever to meet with artists or people from different organizations. That might sound simple, but it’s lowkey difficult. Each time you meet a new person you have to have that same attentive, open-minded, collaborative mindset… And you have to be consistent or else people won’t take you seriously…


You’ll get invited to (and have to attend) a lot of art openings, and dinners, and fundraisers, and auctions. You have to participate on panels, give presentations, cooperate with journalists to get into their publications - magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. And unless you’re at your gallery you’re going to be talking to people that can’t physically see the amazing work you do. Which means you must converse with people whom you have never met and be able to convince them that you have the streets on lock and that your team, your exhibitions, and your artists are the SH**!


...Other than that, your day will likely involve a decent amount of sitting in staff meetings, answering emails and phone calls, putting out small (figurative) fires… Ya know, the normal administrative stuff... And honestly that’s just as important as anything else you’re responsible for… You could have the best ideas in the world but without properly managing your resources on the administrative side, nothing will ever come to fruition.


Welp, there ya have it, a day in the life of a curator... well, some of the ins-and-outs are different depending on the institution, but this should give you a pretty good idea.


I feel like I gave up a lot of game just there. I’m really trying hard to think about these posts and make them meaningful so that it’s worth your time. Please let me know your thoughts because your feedback is important. Thank$.