A new training course for curators from lower socio-economic backgrounds has been launched by three former Tate professionals. Mark Godfrey, former senior curator of international art at Tate Modern, says: “A lot of people who are interested in coursework don’t go into it because the courses are so expensive.” He left the institution last year after publicly criticizing the decision to postpone the Philip Guston exhibition.
Godfrey co-runs the New Curators training program with two co-directors: Kerrin Greenberg, former head of international collections exhibitions at the Tate, and Rudy Minto de Wijs, who worked in the institution’s marketing department and was co-chairman of Black. , Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network.
Creating an inclusive profession
Traditionally, the cost of a master’s degree, the minimum requirement for curatorial employment at institutions such as the Tate, has largely limited the profession to those from privileged backgrounds. For example, the MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art costs £14,175 for UK students and £33,600 for international students.
The new curatorial course will be free for both UK and international students and will also provide 12 participants a year with a minimum living wage in London to cover rent and other costs. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience may apply to participate.
Training focuses on all aspects of curatorial work, from organizing exhibitions to writing curatorial statements and budget proposals. It also prepares students for some of the challenges they will face in their professional lives, using real-life examples such as the controversy surrounding the latest edition of Documenta, which included artwork with anti-Semitic imagery. “Students should think about the decisions they make when they work for those organizations: Do you quit?” Do you add text? How do you handle the situation?’ Godfrey says.
Students meet curators, artists and other art professionals and visit studios, galleries and museums in the UK and internationally. The aim is to give them a network of connections and peers to help support them in their future careers.
The course also includes a mentoring and mental health component 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 different backgrounds where you feel pressured to meet people from other backgrounds? We’re working with a mental health charity that helps us, like Young Minds. Mental health is a big part of building confidence and being able to perform well,” says Minto de Vijs.
Network of institutions
The main advantage of the course is that the participants end the year by organizing a big show in an important institution. The first-year students, who will join the program in September 2023, will curate a major show at a South London gallery next summer. They oversee all aspects of exhibition production, from communicating with the artist to installing the work, writing press materials, and working with the public.
In the following years, exhibitions will be held in other partner institutions. The course also includes real and virtual visits to a number of related institutions such as the Barbican and Studio Voltaire in London, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, Museu de Arte de San Paulo, A4. Art Foundation in Cape Town and Sharjah Art Foundation in UAE, among others.
The training will be based at the South London Gallery (SLG) in Camberwell, which has a long track record of public relations and education work. “We have a history of funding various internships at SLG, but we cannot do something on this scale that fully aligns with our values of social justice and promotes an equal art world,” says its director, Margot. Heller. “As inequality in the art world is a systemic problem, progress has been surprisingly slow in some ways, but we hope this program will show people what’s possible and inspire others to do the same. All SLG staff are excited to welcome and work with these students,” he added.
The filmmakers used their network of connections in the international art world to finance the program. Founding donors include trustees of major museums such as the Tate and Courtauld Gallery 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 Myeong Lee, a former financier who is vice president of the Whitney Museum in New York and also serves on the Tate’s North American acquisitions committee. “We really need programs like New Curators to create tomorrow’s art connoisseurs. We cannot select people from the same, small, narrow pool over and over again. We need to expand the pipeline so we can hear more voices,” he says.
Paying students for their time has a transformative effect, he adds. “At Whitney, our summer internships used to be free. We used to think it was an honor to work at the Whitney, but our blinders finally stopped and we realized that it was a self-selecting method of attracting only certain people to the museum. So we gave the internship program to get paid interns, and once we did that, it had a huge impact on who could apply.”
The new curators course has a ten-year fundraising strategy, says Kerryn Greenberg. “This includes individuals as well as philanthropists with fully operational trusts and foundations and corporations to support our exhibitions programme. Over time, we aim to diversify our funding structure. We want to have a truly transformative impact, and for that we need a certain amount of money; It is expensive to put on high-quality exhibitions and provide students with transformative opportunities. It’s not a cheap program to run, but we’re confident we’ll make the money,” he said, adding that the program has an ethical fundraising policy because “young, aspiring curators take it very seriously.”
The application process for new curators is designed to be as inclusive as possible. He does not discriminate against those who are unable to express themselves in writing. Applicants are asked to record an audio file in which they talk about a “cultural object or event” that they think is important. This can be an “exhibition, artwork, performance, publication, podcast, film, television series, advertising campaign, music video, design or fashion item,” according to the app’s guidelines.
“We’re looking for people who can articulate what’s important and relevant about their chosen cultural event and ‘show analytical thinking’ in their delivery,” says Godfrey. “That’s what curators do: they pick things that they want you to see and think about. That’s the main thing we look for in the application process.”
The goal is to train 100 curators in the next 10 years. “We think about different kinds of curation: there is curating big museum exhibitions, but also small projects in artist-run spaces. We want people to be fully prepared and efficient if they’re entering a large, hierarchical institution, but also efficient if they want to open up their own space.”
• Applications for the first New Curators courseLaunched in September 2023, now open. The deadline for receiving applications is February 5, 2023.