Tate veterans launch free—and paid—curating course, aimed at those from less-affluent backgrounds

A new training course for aspiring curators from lower socio-economic backgrounds has been launched by three former Tate specialists. “A lot of people who would be interested in curating don’t even try to get into 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 its decision to postpone a Philip Guston exhibition.

Godfrey will lead the New Curators training program in collaboration with two co-directors: Kerryn Greenberg, former head of international collections exhibitions at the Tate, and Rudi Minto de Wijs, who worked in the institution’s marketing department and served as co-chair of its Black group. , Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Network.

Creating an inclusive profession

The cost of master’s degrees, which have traditionally been the minimum requirement for curatorial employment at institutions such as Tate, has mainly restricted the profession to those from privileged backgrounds. The MA in Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art, for example, costs £14,175 for UK students and £33,600 for international students.

The New Curators course will be free for UK and international students and will also provide up to 12 participants a year with a London Living Wage to cover the cost of rent and other expenses. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience is eligible to apply.

Teaching will focus on all aspects of a curator’s work, from organizing exhibitions to writing curatorial statements and budget proposals. It will also prepare students for some of the challenges they will face in their professional lives using real examples such as the controversy at the last edition of Documenta which included an artwork with anti-Semitic images. “Students have to think about what decisions they would make if they were working in those organizations: Do you take the job? Put some text? How do you navigate the situation?” Godfrey says.

Students will meet a wide range of curators, artists and other art professionals and visit studios, galleries and museums in the UK and around the world. The aim is to provide them with a network of contacts and colleagues who can help support them in their future careers.

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The course will also include a mentoring and mental health component to prepare students for the realities of field work. “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 very different backgrounds? We are working with organizations like Young Minds, a mental health charity, who are going to help us. Mental health is an important part of building confidence and enabling you to do good work,” says Minto de Wijs.

A network of institutions

One of the main benefits of the course is that participants will complete the year by putting on a big show at a major institution. The first-year students, who will join the program in September 2023, will curate a major show at the South London Gallery the following summer. They will oversee all aspects of the production of the exhibition, from communication with the artist to the installation of the work, the writing of press materials and participation in the community.

In subsequent years, exhibitions will be held in other collaborating institutions. The course will also include real and virtual visits to several partner organizations, including the Barbican and Studio Voltaire in London, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, the São Paulo Museum of Art, A4. Arts Foundation in Cape Town and Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates, among many others.

The teaching will be based at the South London Gallery (SLG) in Camberwell, which has a long history of community education and outreach work. “We have a history of funding various practices at the SLG, but we are not in a position to do something on this scale that fully aligns with our values ​​of social justice and promoting a more egalitarian art world,” says its director Margot. Heller. “Progress has been surprisingly slow in some ways because the inequality of the art world is a systemic problem, but we hope this program will show people what is possible and inspire others to do similar work. The entire SLG staff is excited for welcoming these students and working with them”, he adds.

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financing

To finance the program, the directors drew on their network of contacts in the international art world. 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 Miyoung Lee, a former financier who serves as vice president of the Whitney Museum in New York and who also sits on the Tate’s North American Acquisitions Committee. “We desperately need programs like New Curators that will create tomorrow’s artistic tastemakers. We can’t 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 the Whitney, our summer internships used to be unpaid. We used to think, ‘It’s an honor to work at the Whitney,’ but our glasses eventually fell off and we realized that it’s a very self-selecting way to bring in only certain types of people to the museum. So we eventually staffed the internship program to get paid interns, and once we did that, it had a very dramatic effect on who could apply.”

The New Curators course has a ten-year fundraising strategy, says Kerryn Greenberg. “This includes individuals but also philanthropists with fully operational trusts and foundations and corporations to support our exhibition program. Over time, we aim to diversify our funding structure. We seek to have a truly transformative impact and to do that takes a certain amount of money; it’s expensive to do high-quality exhibitions and give students opportunities that are going to be transformative. This is not a cheap program to run, but we’re confident we’ll find the money,” she says, adding that the program has an ethics policy of fundraising, not least because “new and aspiring commissioners take this very seriously.”

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application

The application process for new commissioners has been 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” they consider important. This could be “an exhibition, artwork, performance, publication, podcast, film, television series, advertising campaign, music video, design or fashion object,” according to the application’s guidelines.

“We’re looking for people who can explain what they found important and urgent” about the cultural event they choose to talk about and who “can show analytical thinking” in communicating this, Godfrey says. “This is what curators do: they select the things 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 commissioners in the next 10 years. “We are thinking about very different types of curation: there is the curation of large museum exhibitions but there are also small projects in spaces run by artists. We want to equip people to be absolutely ready and effective if they’re going into a big hierarchical institution, but also effective if they want to start their own space.”

• Applications for the first course of New Commissioners, which will be released in September 2023, are now open. The application deadline is February 5, 2023.

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