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Small Fish, Big Pond

Posted By Jessica Cochran, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs, Acting Assistant Director, Columbia College, Monday, July 22, 2013

As a first time attendee to the annual conference, I was particularly excited to consider my own curatorial practice—I work both independently and at a small, non collecting university gallery (Center for Book and Paper Arts, Columbia College Chicago)—relative to curators working mostly at collecting institutions much larger than my own. Would the issues be the same? Do all curators wear as many "hats” as I do? Can I adopt strategies of larger institutions for funding exhibitions or generating innovative programming?

I was pleased to find out: the conversations are the same. Most of the curators, museum administrators, and educators I met or listened to, from institutions large and small (and some working independently!) shared similar challenges:

¨ How do we engage audiences and quantify successful engagement? (Panel: Museums and Civic Responsibility)

¨ How does a curator represent culture and geography in non-Eurocentric ways? (Presentation: Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, Associate Curator for Africa, Baltimore Museum of Art, "The Great Map Debate: Context and an African Art Installation”)

¨ How do "the curatorial” and "the educational” intersect in the gallery space? (Panel: Participation, Engagement and the Curator)

¨ What is the role of technology in relation to visitor participation? (Panel: Participation, Engagement and the Curator)

And if anything unites curators from all walks of life, it has to be the challenge of communications and public speaking. The conference ended on a high note, with a public speaking workshop led by Barbara Tannenbaum: there she taught us strategies for successful, confident public speaking—from presenting works for acquisition to a committee, leading a gallery tour or participating on a panel, to tips on successful email communication!

As I continue to build my curatorial value system (not to mention my career!) through work at my home institution as well as independent curatorial projects, I will continue to attend the AAMC annual meeting. Did I receive every answer I needed? No! But I learned that I was asking right questions…

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