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Curating Connections

Curating Connections

At Norwich University of the Arts, students on the MA Curation course get hands-on experience working with artists and audiences as they stage fully realised public exhibitions. With the guidance of experienced staff and an industry-based mentor, students have the opportunity to explore the meaning and purpose of their curatorial practice.

American student Rosie Smith, Lecturer Mark Wilsher and MA Curation Subject Leader Caroline Fisher discuss the course at NUA and the challenge of being a professional curator. 

What brought you to NUA?

Rosie: I wanted to have an experience that was a little bit more hands-on and practical after so many years writing essays. That’s what I’ve got and it’s been great.

What was it about curation that you like?

Rosie: For me, the curator is the one who bridges the artist and the public. I talk to people who aren’t involved in the arts in any way, including university educated friends, who will say ‘I am not an art person and I don’t understand art,’ or ‘I don’t get it, so I don’t really want to go see an exhibition.’

But the moment you get those people in a gallery space or museum and facilitate their understanding of a piece by asking what does this mean to you and how do you relate, you stop them thinking of art as separate from their everyday lives.

Mark: There’s also the matter of getting across your view of the world. Curation is also a creative practice where you can express your point of view.

Rosie: Definitely. A lot of my curatorial practice is about socially engaged art. I’m trying to get audiences to  look at the world from a different perspective in the hope that they’ll be sympathetic toward ‘the other’. Art is a universal language and it can be a way of connecting people. 

"We’re lucky that in Norwich there is a big art scene. We have a lot of galleries, plus festivals and one-off events. There’s a long history of this in the city because Norwich is constantly welcoming new students and graduates who add to that and keep it fresh."

Mark Wilsher, Associate Lecturer

What are the qualities of a successful curation student?

Mark: All of the really successful people I have worked with are those who are so driven that they just make it happen – almost out of nowhere. They conjure up the money and support and favours from people and suddenly this massive thing appears out of nowhere.

Caroline: As a curator, it’s really nice to be able to support that can do attitude in artists, too. You have to be realistic about the constraints of budget, space, technology, but it’s important to make things happen when you have an artist who is really keen.

Mark: They need to be ambitious, too. It’s the same for students. When students on the course put together a show, I want them to connect with artists in other UK cities and overseas rather than looking to the students around them. Just like in the real world, they need to get out there to meet people and visit studios, and form relationships with the artists, trusts and organisations that will enable them to pull exhibitions together.

Rosie: You have to find your footing with that. This was one of the biggest hurdles that we had to overcome: you actually have to go to an artist’s studio and say ‘Hey, can I come view your work and do you want to be a part of my show?’. 

Mark: For everyone’s benefit, we start off by visiting studios. For example, we went to meet artists at Dove Street Studios in Norwich and Space Studios in London. Pretty soon everyone was off meeting artists independently.

What are the challenges of curating for a space like East GalleryNUA?

Caroline: East GalleryNUA events are generally well attended and people like to come to the space to meet artists. We invest in public talks, workshops, group receptions and other social ways to engage audiences and provoke discussion. That said, one of the challenges  is finding ways to get more students and general public actively engaged in what we’re doing.

Mark: It’s about creating a community. East GalleryNUA is the centre of a community that attracts all sorts of people: artists, staff and students from NUA, art lovers and collectors, and everyday passers-by. Here, they all get chance to meet and share the experience of the show.

Rosie: Exactly. Audience engagement. There’s this feeling when you walk into a traditional gallery that you get in a library – you are not allowed to speak and you are supposed to be very reflective. But people want to have a conversation with the work and as a curator, you want it to be a space where they can do that, talking about art is how you get people interested in it.

Mark: We’re lucky that in Norwich there is a big art scene. We have a lot of galleries, plus festivals and one-off events. There’s a long history of this in the city because Norwich is constantly welcoming new students and graduates who add to that and keep it fresh. It’s become a really good creative scene and, you know, a good social scene.

Rosie: It is a great social scene. Norwich is incredibly welcoming and the University is a great community. Part of what attracted me to the course was the idea of being part of an artistic community. I’ve met tons of new friends and there’s great rapport with the teachers. It’s not as overwhelming as London and because it’s close, you still benefit from what it has to offer.

Rosie Smith

"I came to NUA because I wanted to have an experience that was a little bit more hands-on and practical after so many years writing essays. That’s what I’ve got and it’s been great."