Curating People: Susan Miller

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium “Curating People” on April 28 and 29, 2011. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by independent curator Susan Miller, currently Associate Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and formerly Executive Director of New Langton Arts.
Top Ten Things Every Curator Should Know about Supporting Experimental Work
1) Being a good curator is more than having good taste or knowing how to arrange things.
2) If supporting experimental work ONLY requires facilitating the production of it, the title of curator is probably overstated. Facilitator, coordinator, producer is probably more like it. (See next.)
3) In addition to the above, being a curator also means you are a critic and capable of writing good text about the work. Work that is “experimental” is often so because it is new, and without description or context yet. It is unfamiliar, fresh, and somewhat “undefined.” Think of every moment of artistic innovation that is now part of the lexicon of artistic invention and experimentation, and you’ll discover the moniker “experimental” was once attached.  The curator should bring language to the work, shaping its relationship to other practitioners and history, and foregrounding it in the continuum of artistic invention.
4) Know everything technical about every kind of artistic production. Be familiar with software, hardware, mechanics, how to run/control lights, operate a soundboard,color theory, set design, etc. These are tools that can greatly enhance a production that you won’t think to use if you don’t know how to use them. Even if you have a knowledgeable crew, it’s hard to problem solve or plan a project effectively without firsthand experience. This is why artists often make excellent curators, producers, and crew. They know their materials, and have a commitment to craft.
5) Time is an important resource that should be used effectively.
6) Sound and light are difficult to control. Be thoughtful and careful.
7) Production is always a collaborative process. Takes a lot of people to make something, even the most mundane object or experience. Know the various tasks and match them with the skill sets of the people involved. Credit everyone appropriately and visibly for their contributions.
8) The best productions facilitate the talent’s vision, with minimal interference and ample support and enthusiasum from the institution.
9) The most interesting productions invent new and engaging ways to interact with audiences.
10) Performance is an element in every artistic practice I can think of.
11) While seemingly glamorous, being a curator is work just like any other job. Best approached with humility and grace.
Confessions of an X turned Y
I am a trained painter and art historian turned curator, writer, and producer. East Coaster turned Californian. Parent turned empty-nester, and so on. I think all hats worn have contributed to my approach to my work. I’m curious about where other curators come from and what informs their practice.
Why I Wanted to be Part of This ConversationI accepted the invitation to participate because I loved the idea of a conversation with peers on the production of interdisciplinary work, and performance in a gallery context. Seems timely, if not overdue. Since I believe that all work should be seen as some kind of performance, I hope to see what kind of conversation that idea might stimulate. I want to talk about new work production, and what and how others are approaching the funding of new work with continued economic and cultural challenges. I’m also looking forward to sharing the conversation with Connie, Tony, Frank, and Stephen about Bay Area work. We don’t get to do that very often.