Curator Kate McNamara shares some invaluable advice for those looking to pursue a career in her field.
For Kate McNamara, Director of Galleries at Otis College of Art and Design, curating means “facilitating opportunities for both the artist and public to engage,” and it’s what she’s been doing since having her “a-ha moment” while studying painting as an undergrad at Massachusetts’ Hampshire College. “The idea of a curator had never occurred to me,” she says. “But being on that side of things where I can work with other artists and engage the ideas that I was thinking about that I was having so much trouble putting into my artwork made so much sense.” She’s co-directing this year’s Emerging Curators Retreat, and here she shares some invaluable advice for those inspired by a similar calling.
Get your DIY on. “Start putting together shows with your friends in your apartment or garage or backyard,” she says. “That’s a really exciting and easy way to leap into the practical aspects of what it means to organize a show.”
Take advantage of social media. “Everyone’s a curator on Instagram, right? You’re selecting certain images that you’re putting into the world. You can look at them collaboratively, or you can look at just the one—that’s a space to engage curatorial strategy.”
Hone your research skills. “Research is a really important part of being a curator,” she says, whether you’re working with a contemporary artist or in a museum with early Middle Eastern art.
Get out there. “Go to those galleries who are showing artists that really interest you or are thought-provoking. Go see museum shows, take notes—what is visually compelling about those shows? What are different ways that the curators are engaging artworks? And that goes down to very practical things, like what does it mean to show two different works side by side?”
Do a lot of reading. “Pick up publications like Artforum, The Brooklyn Rail,” she says, anything with a lot of art criticism.
Work at a gallery. “You’re going to learn a lot, whether it’s liaising with artists or collectors. It will be an opportunity to observe the different relationships that make up an art world or an institution.”
Contact established curators. “If you are following a curator’s work, reach out and let them know why you’re interested in what they’re doing and ask for that five-minute coffee.”
Go on studio visits. “Even if you’re still in school, ask your friends, get in the rhythm of visiting different artists. It helps to develop and define and refine your eye and your interests.”
About the Emerging Curators Retreat
The Emerging Curators Retreat is the first of its kind at Otis College of Art and Design. The program aims to attract emerging, talented, and diverse individuals looking to advance their artistic and curatorial skills.
Participants will engage with Los Angeles' thriving art community and advance their curatorial careers through a series of talks, conversations, and presentations from professional curators, artists, and thinkers, as well through visits to museums, galleries, studios, and curators.
Learn more about the Emerging Curators Retreat and apply now: https://www.otis.edu/emerging-curators-retreat
Image: Emerging Curators Retreat 2018. Photo: Paulina Samborska.