Finding ‘Structure’

Featured Image: close up of Diane’s 40th – Life Story Art by Leigh

01 Jan 2020 (Updated 08 Apr 2020)

In my last interlude with Structure, I learned that I needed to lay out the structures I have discovered from my research and decide how I will select one that best fits me. So let’s start by defining the structural options I’ve unearthed with my research.

1. Collective or Team Curation

This would involve assembling others to work alongside me as the co-curators (a collective) or assembling others to support my work as curator (a team). Both the collectives and the teams would contribute to producing the exhibition. They would heavily influence the execution of the vision (the collective, more than the team) and have some input into the vision; but the idea and final say on the vision we’re working toward remains with me.

Evidence

This option appears in my interview with Janine Francois who did most of her biggest curation projects as a collective of which she was the head(Francois, 2019, pp.5-6). Collective curation also appears in my contextual review via Tate Exchange, Breaking Criminal Traditions (BCT), and Passion for Compassion. At Tate Exchange, the lead artist selected still has to make space in the programme to include events from other associates. The Breaking Criminal Traditions is led by Cheryl Jefferson and the idea was originally hers. She invited two collaborators, and together the three of them have split the roles essential to make their exhibition successful for the last four years. Passion for Compassion is a group of student curators. I am unsure whether they were selected by their university or themselves but they also split key roles to produce a single exhibition.

Relevance

Personal Rating:                Hell yeah!

The appeal –

  1. Is an excellent way to share the workload
  2. Bring a wealth of complementary experience together
  3. Provides me with opportunities to share my skills
  4. Provides me with opportunities to learn new skills from others
  5. Would help me to broaden my network
  6. Enables the exhibition to tap a wider pool of resources
  7. Could introduce me to artists whose work fits the exhibition objective

The catch –

  1. How would I decide who is a good fit? And what if my decision later proves wrong?
  2. Money and success makes people crazy. What’s in place to manage this?
  3. Decision-making is more time-consuming
  4. Way more paperwork. I’ll need to have all my paperwork in place – contracts, agreements, etc

Considerations

If I go this route I will need to:

  • Be exceedingly clear about the exhibition objective and vision
  • Be sure to get complete buy-in to that objective and vision so we’re all working together
  • Have a probation period to check each new person’s fit with the team
  • Get real familiar with accountability structures (Francois, 2019, pp.6)
  • Agree terms of compensation and collaboration in advance and in writing

2. Lone Artist Curating within an Open Call

This structure would see me producing the artworks myself and then responding to an Open Call that fits with my exhibition objective.

Evidence

This was Curator 1’s approach with her solo exhibition (Curator 1, 2019,pp.5). Alketa also took this approach to produce Refugees Welcome (Xhafa Mripa, 2017) and in some ways the Tate Exchange associates also respond to Tate’s open call for a particular theme each year (Courage, 2014). If we look at the same structure but from the viewpoint of the supporting organisation, People United also take this approach . They put out Open Calls to attract artists to their projects, though this is not the only way they engage artists (Andrews et al., 2017).

Relevance

Personal Rating:                Ok

The appeal –

  1. Decision-making is faster alone, compared with a group of collaborators or contributors
  2. Likely to exhibit with other Open Call respondents/artists. Same effect, different route?
  3. Could gain instant access to a wealth of resources from the Open Call organisation
  4. The Open Call organisation is likely to help/handle the extras e.g. publicity, risk assessments, etc
  5. Full creative control over all artwork (once within Open Call terms)
  6. I could step back into the role of artist, curatorial duties would be limited (comparatively)
  7. Usually venue included, so no hassle trying to find one on my own

The catch –

  1. Open calls applications usually offer a space to a single artist so…
  2. More pressure on me to produce all artwork
  3. My artwork would be limited to my view and interpretation (regardless of research)
  4. I would need to conform to the terms of the Open Call
  5. It would be someone else’s exhibition. My vision would be irrelevant.
  6. I might be allotted limited space or number of artworks
  7. Could be sharing space with artists whose exhibition vision doesn’t fit mine
  8. May not be free to choose the venue I want

Considerations

If I go this route I will need to:

  • Work hard to ensure other voices are heard through my artwork
  • Read the fine print and be sure that I’m happy with what I’m signing up for
  • Adjust my exhibition vision to fit the structure I’m working with
  • Check to see is terms would stop me from hiring a team?

3. Lone Artist or Collective supported by an Support Organisation

This structure sees the lone artist or collective retaining the majority of control over their exhibition vision while conforming to some terms and conditions in order to benefit from the guidance, networks and resources of an arts charity or supporting organisation. Usually the arts/collective/curator and the support organisation have matching or synergistic curatorial goals.

Evidence

Clare Patey achieved this structure for her Empathy Museum which is ‘presented’ by Arts Admin  (The Empathy Museum, 2015). People United also discussed supporting artists projects as one of the ways they engage with artists (Andrews et al., 2017). In theory, an artist or collective could approach People United with a proposal and though they might implement some terms (e.g. research access, evaluation measures, etc.), People United could decide to support the project once it fits their overall ethos of Art and Kindness. Curator 1 was also given some measure of freedom to design her exhibition space and have her own exhibition vision for her work (Curator 1, 2019, pp.6) but that freedom existed because her vision already fit with the Open Call that she responded to. In this structure, the artists/curators must be able to set their own agenda, though the curatorial purposes of the curator(s) and the supporting organisation must be in sync for a smooth ride. This is why I haven’t mentioned Alketa. If Counterpoints Arts commissioned her then she merely responded to their request creatively, she didn’t determine the agenda, though it did obviously fit with her interest in Human Rights themes (Xhafa Mripa, 2016).

Relevance

Personal Rating:                Hell yeah!

The appeal –

  1. Having back up who shares the same curatorial purpose would be awesome!
  2. Retaining control of my exhibition vision. Yay!
  3. Enables the exhibition (and me!) to access to a wider pool of resources
  4. Some terms might help improve the exhibition e.g. People United’s research and evaluation commitments
  5. Allows options to work alone, collectively or with a team
  6. Almost full creative control over all artwork (I’m sure terms will include some restrictions)
  7. Would help me to broaden my network
  8. Could introduce me to a new pool of art and artists with similar interests

The catch –

  1. There will be terms and conditions that will add some restrictions
  2. How to establish a link with such an organisation? New research project!
  3. Support might not include funding meaning I’d still have to do a funding application and
  4. Separate funders would mean 2 sets of terms and conditions to comply with.
  5. Doing and sending multiple tailored ‘alliance’ proposals is time consuming
  6. Repeated rejections can be demoralising

Considerations

If I go this route I will need to:

  • Read the fine print and be sure that I’m happy with what I’m signing up for
  • Approach the supporting organisation with my proposal in place
  • If I’m working in a collective, we would need to be formed and solid before approaching the supporting organisation.

4. Lone Artist/Collective producing Guerrilla Art

This would entail a single artist or group of artists creating using the streets as their canvas or exhibition space. The legal version of this involves getting permission from property owners to use their space to show the work. The illegal version of this involves posting artwork quickly, anonymously, and anywhere you like.

Evidence

I didn’t include JR’s Face2Face or Women are Heroes campaigns in the Contextual Review as I couldn’t find enough information to fully populate the table, but the information I did find really made me think about bringing art to the people, letting them decide what art they want to see in their spaces (JR, 2011). Alketa’s Refugees Welcome lorry that travelled the country to approved sites also brought art to the people e.g. at one location she parked next to a ship and a pile of life jackets to emphasize her point.

Relevance

Personal Rating:                Ok

The appeal –

  1. Cuts through all the red tape
  2. Simplifies the offering to a series of pieces rather than a massive exhibition
  3. Allows the art to be very close to the target audience, everyday!
  4. I would instantly know if my target audience accepted the message i.e. defacing of work
  5. A real creative challenge to find a way to make practical but striking message age on the street

The catch –

  1. Simplifies the offering to a series of pieces rather than a massive exhibition (How attached am I to the idea of an exhibition?)
  2. I cannot do the illegal option – I can’t do jail time, I have 2 young children.
  3. Illegal option limits my choice of medium
  4. The work could be destroyed soon after being put up
  5. Legal street or public art requires tonnes of insurance, contracts, agreements, paperwork.
  6. The more people involved the less likely I can stay anonymous and out of jail/court.

Considerations

If I go this route I will need to:

  • Need money for bail and court OR legal and insurance fees
  • Rethink ‘exhibition’ vision
  • Work with a team or collective who are keen to do street/public art
  • Cross my t’s and dot my i’s to do this legally and avoid trouble
  • Be prepared to have the audience physically accept or reject the work
  • Get very creative about how I will deliver art on the street

5. Lone Artist/Curator/Collective applying for Funding to Curate and Produce Exhibition

This is a very traditional structure. Artist/collective/curator has idea, develops exhibition proposal, applies for funding, and prays for a Yes! If application successful, takes money, produces exhibition, provides proof to funding body of all activities, costs and evaluations associated with the exhibition.

Evidence

All three curators that I interviewed have had to apply for funding for their exhibitions at some point. Janine Francois tends to apply once she has her collaborators and contributors in place (Francois, 2019, pp.7); Shasti Lowton tends to apply after she has confirmed a date with the venue (Lowton, 2019, pp.5); and Curator 1 applies once she achieves clarity with her exhibition proposal and gets the funding application double checked by experienced fundraising specialists, though even that is no guarantee of success. (Curator 1, 2019, pp.1,5).

Relevance

Personal Rating:                Do-able

The appeal –

  1. Leaves me (and my collaborators) with complete creative control (mostly)
  2. Allows me to collaborate if I want (pre-application definitely, post-application maybe?)
  3. I have experienced curators’ insight into when to apply and what to consider before applying
  4. Freedom to connect with my choice of venue
  5. Provides money to make my exhibition vision a reality
  6. Evaluation requirements can help focus feedback methods or add good content to exhibition

The catch –

  1. Dependent on funders wanting to fund this type of project at this time. Sometimes their area of interest is not obvious.
  2. Doing and sending multiple tailored funding applications is time consuming
  3. Repeated rejections can be demoralising
  4. Hassle of finding a venue that I like, that likes me and my project
  5. Terms and conditions may add workload not originally anticipated

Considerations

If I go this route I will need to:

  • Establish a USP, there will be a lot of people going this route
  • Research funding body. If they share your curatorial goal success should be easier

6. Practice PhD

This involves doing all the research work and development of the exhibition as part of a practice PhD with support from a PhD supervisor.

Evidence

Currently Janine Francois is doing a practice PhD with Tate Britain and the University of Bedfordshire. She is putting together programmes for the museum to test her PhD question and advance Tate Britain’s level of inclusivity(Francois, 2019, pp.10-14). Some parts of her experience are harrowing to hear.

Relevance

Personal Rating:                Hell NO!

The appeal –

  1. Being part of PhD study gives the exhibition more credibility and,
  2. Could make it easier to apply for funding and a venue
  3. Opens up new avenues of funding (special funding ops for research)
  4. I would have the support (hopefully) of a PhD supervisor with extensive knowledge in this area
  5. Gives me access to university resources and networks

The catch –

  1. PhD’s typically take 3-5 years. I’d like to do this exhibition in under 3 years
  2. I would need to study methodologies, all those awful isms that make my head hurt!
  3. Doing the isms feels like a detour from getting on with researching the exhibition and its content. I want to know more about social justice not research processes.
  4. The intensive study/research time required would mean less time with my young children. I resented the hell out of this PgCert taking me from my kids over Christmas, a PhD would be so much worse for so much longer. Nuh-uh.
  5. Limited time to do paying work during a PhD
  6. A PhD is not a collective endeavour and I want to work with others
  7. The journey of a Black academic is not an easy one. Over the last 3 years only 1.2% of PhD funding from UK Research and Innovation, the largest PhD funding body in the UK, has gone to Black or Black Mixed students. 0.15% went to Black Caribbean students like me. (Williams et al., 2018) A PhD for me would be a fight from start to finish and that doesn’t even involve the workload!

Considerations

If I go this route I will need to consider:

  • Funding and access for black academics is thin on the ground (Lewis, 2019)
  • What will you do if your supervisor is not supportive?
  • Honestly, I’m just not going this route. Considering over.


Conclusion

  1. Collective or Team Curation
    Personal Rating:        Hell yeah!
  2. Lone Artist Curating within an Open Call
    Personal Rating:        Ok
  3. Lone Artist or Collective supported by an Support Organisation
    Personal Rating:        Hell yeah!
  4. Lone Artist/Collective producing Guerrilla Art
    Personal Rating:        Ok
  5. Lone Artist/Curator/Collective applying for Funding to Curate and Produce Exhibition
    Personal Rating:        Do-able
  6. Practice PhD
    Personal Rating:        Hell NO!

Now that I’ve listed all the structure options, it bears mentioning that some of these options can be used together. For example, my favourite – 1. Collective and Team Curation – could work well with either option 3. Lone Artist or Collective supported by an Support Organisation or option 5. Lone Artist/Curator/Collective applying for Funding to Curate and Produce Exhibition. I could lead a team of collaborators and apply for funding and propose an alliance with a support organisation. None of those options are mutually exclusive.

Personally, all three (1, 3 and 5) appeal to me because I can get started as soon as I’m ready. There are no detours into research methodologies as with a Practice PhD (6); there is nothing forcing me to tie into someone else’s vision as with an Open Call (2); and there are considerably less restrictions, paperwork, jail time or bureaucracy than legal or illegal guerrilla art (4). Also, I believe that I can more easily plan strategies to mitigate the potential pitfalls with 1, 3 and 5, my chosen three options, compared to 2, 4, and 6. More importantly, I am more motivated to find solutions for these 1, 3 and 5 than I am with the others.

What about the rest of the question? Read about that here.


References

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