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The Creative Curator

Posted By Tracee J. Glab, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Flint Institute of Arts, Monday, July 22, 2013

I have been working in museums since 1999, but only recently, in the last 3 years, been working as a curator. So, because of my previous experience in the museum field, I came to the AAMC conference in NYC —my first—as both a participant and observer. In the keynote lecture, Holland Cotter’s admonition to curators to "be an artist yourself” and "put life in art,” I think, inadvertently captured the theme of what I took away from the conference: the need for creativity in curatorial work. In the Pecha Kecha talks, I heard how my fellow curators demonstrate an artistic practice by being creative in their research, organization, and execution of ideas. I also saw how creativity abounds in collaborative activities, such as conservators, educators, and curators working together to create memorable and engaging experiences for visitors.

Over and over again, I learned how curators must be "artistic” in how they overcome obstacles, be they bureaucratic and political at big museums, or financial and logistical at smaller museums. I enjoyed hearing from others "in the trenches” who face the same types of challenges that I do and who have come up with some new ways (or revived tried and true methods) of dealing with those issues. Those interactions over coffee or at the lunch table were invaluable to me, both as a means of encouragement and practical advice. I also participated in a mentoring session, which was very helpful and productive in a more in-depth way as I was able to pick my mentor’s brain about specific projects.

Lastly, having the conference in New York City afforded me the opportunity to add extracurricular activities to the conference, such as visiting the Met, the Guggenheim, the Frick, MoMA, the Neue Galerie, as well as other galleries, which was helpful in not only viewing really great works of art but also learning about other museums’ presentation strategies. In all, the conference underlined to me, what I believe Holland Cotter was trying to get across, that curators can (and should) be as artistic or creative in their practice as the artists who they study and present to others.

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