A new training course for candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds has been launched by three former Tate experts. “Many people who are interested in curating don’t even try to enter the profession because the courses are prohibitively expensive,” says Mark Godfrey, former senior curator of international art at Tate Modern. He left the institution last year after publicly criticizing the decision to postpone the Philip Gustin exhibition.
Godfrey will run the New Curator Training Program in collaboration with two co-directors: Karen Greenberg, former Head of International Collections Exhibitions at Tate, and Rudy Minto-Deweys, who worked in the institution’s marketing department and served as its Black Co-Chair. Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network.
Creating a comprehensive profession
The cost of master’s degrees, which have traditionally been the minimum requirement for curatorial jobs at institutions such as Tate, has largely restricted the profession to those from privileged backgrounds. The Curating Contemporary Art MA at the Royal College of Art, for example, costs £14,175 for British students and £33,600 for international students.
The New Curator course will be free to attend for both British and international students and will provide up to 12 participants with a London living stipend for a year to cover rent and other costs. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience can apply to attend.
Teaching will focus on every aspect of a curator’s job, from organizing exhibitions to writing curatorial statements and budget proposals. It will also prepare students for some of the challenges they may face in their professional lives using real examples such as the controversy over a recent edition of the document that included an artwork with anti-Semitic imagery. “Students need to think about what decisions they would make if they were working in these organizations: Do you minimize work? Do you create some text? How do you navigate the situation?” Godfrey says.
Students will meet a wide range of decorators, artists and other arts professionals and visit studios, galleries and museums in the UK and internationally. The goal is to give them a network of contacts and colleagues who can help them advance in their careers.
The course will also include a counseling 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 how do you deal with different environments where you feel pressured to meet people from different backgrounds? We are working with organizations such as Young Minds, a mental health charity, who are going to help us. “Mental health is a big part of building confidence and enabling you to do well,” says Manto de Wages.
A network of institutions
A major benefit of the course is that participants will complete the year by organizing a major show at a major 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 will oversee every aspect of exhibit production, from communicating with artists to installing works, writing press materials and engaging in community outreach.
In the following years, exhibitions will be held at other partner institutions. The course will also include real and virtual visits to several related institutions including the Barbican and Studio Voltaire in London, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, A4. The Arts Foundation in Cape Town and the Sharjah Art Foundation in the UAE, among many others.
Teaching will be based at the South London Gallery (SLG) in Camberwell which has a long track record of community outreach and education work. “We have a history of funding various internships at SLG but we are not in a position to do something on the kind of scale that is fully consistent with our values of social justice and promoting a more equitable art world. Give,” says its director Margot. Heller. “Progress has been surprisingly slow in some ways because inequality in the art world is a systemic problem, but we hope this program will show people what’s possible and that it will inspire others to do the same.” will give The entire SLG staff is excited to host and work with these students,” she adds.
To fund the program, the directors used their network of contacts in the international art world. Founding donors include trustees of major museums including the Tate and Courtauld Galleries 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 Miyoung Lee, a former financier who serves as vice president of the Whitney Museum in New York and also sits on Tate’s North American acquisitions committee. “We desperately need new curators of programs that will produce tomorrow’s art tastemakers.” We cannot select people from the same, small, narrow pool over and over again. We need to broaden the pipeline so that we can hear more voices,” she says.
Paying students for their time has a transformative effect, she adds. “At the Whitney, our summer internships were unpaid. We used to think, ‘It’s an honor to work at the Whitney,’ but eventually our blinders fell off and we realized that it was just a self-serving way of bringing certain types of people into the museum. So, we finally approved the internship program to pay interns and once we did that it had a very dramatic effect on who could apply.
Karen Greenberg says the New Curators Course has a ten-year fundraising strategy. “This includes individuals but also philanthropists with fully operational trusts and foundations and corporations to support our exhibition program. Over time, our goal is to diversify our funding structure. We seek We’re really having a transformative impact and it takes a significant amount of money to do that; it’s expensive to put on high-quality exhibitions and give students opportunities that are going to be transformative. This is not a cheap program to run, but we are confident that we will get the money,” he said, adding that the program has an ethical fundraising policy at least because “young, aspiring curators take it very seriously.
The application process for new curators is designed to be as inclusive as possible. It will not discriminate against those who struggle to express themselves in writing. Candidates will be asked to record an audio file of themselves talking about a “cultural object or event” that they believe is significant. This can be an “exhibition, artwork, performance, publication, podcast, film, TV series, advertising campaign, music video, design, or fashion object,” according to the application guidelines.
“We’re looking for people who can explain what they feel is important and urgent” about the cultural event they choose to speak about and who can “show analytical thinking” in that conversation, Godfrey says. “That’s what curators do: they choose things they want you to see and think about. That’s the main thing we’re looking for in the application process.
The goal is to train 10 curators in the next 100 years. “We’re thinking about very different types of curating: there’s curating big museum shows but also smaller projects in artist-run spaces. We want people to be fully prepared and effective if they go to a large, ranked organization, but also effective if they want to start their own.
• Applications for the first New Curator course, which starts in September 2023, are now open. The deadline for applications is 5 February 2023.