Last week, January 26th, I had the pleasure of being a guest panelist on a curatorial panel with the Rockland Arts Festival!
Lisa D'Amico, artist, curator and cultural producer invited me along with Barbara Galazzo of Rockland Center for the Arts, Kathleen Reckling of ArtsWestchester, and Paulette Ross of the Nyack Art Walk. The panel was moderated by John Patrick Schutz. John led a lively discussion and I was thrilled that he had also seen one of my curatorial projects, "String Theories," at Field Projects in 2017.
I love public speaking opportunities, especially when it is on a subject that inspires me and drives me. I kind of fell into curatorial work out of necessity with the job path that unveiled itself to me, and I do truly love it. I believe curating is a way of visual story telling of the human experience by grouping specific artists and works together. One of the greatest things about art is the shared experience of human reflection, to push society forward on realizations of beauty, culture and social perspective. Ultimately art is about connection, and curating is a way of helping people make those connections.
How did it all happen? Participating in this panel had me reflecting on where it started for me and here is a bit about the journey. Of course some of the first times I seriously thought about curating was while I was studying at Parsons and actually part of an assignment. But more likely the seed was already there, from when I was teenager putting art shows together at the local nonprofit teen center in Nyack, NY. Some of those teen artists have gone on to have successful careers in art and may not remember me asking if I could "borrow their work" for a Friday night pop-up..
After I got my Masters in Art and Teaching I moved to the rolling green hills of Vermont. There I taught art at the local high school and I opened a Studio/Gallery space in the Bridgewater Mill for a very hot minute before returning to NYC for graduate school at Sotheby's. However much I loved teaching in Vermont, the pull of the diversity and contemporary art in NYC ultimately brought me back. (Although the first trans artist I met was in New Hampshire, not while I was living in the East Village, side note.) While I was living in Vermont I also volunteered at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH and it was there I got to watch a curator move art around a gallery and speak out loud about choices of color and size, and moving the viewer around the space. Despite all the grad school and reading, this was one of my most important lessons.
Studying at Sotheby's and reading the Curator's Egg really got me thinking about how people even start to pursue a career curating. I was also a practicing artist and curating my own work for exhibitions was given a lot of thought. Because of my background as an artist and educator, people started telling me about non-profit arts and how that would be a good career path for me. 14 years later and what can I say, they were right.
Working at Clover's Fine Art Gallery in downtown Brooklyn 2009-2010 was my first position where I had creative curatorial control. The gallery was owned by Clover Barrett, a Jamaican Attorney and Entrepreneur who owned the building with dreams of having a chic and diverse gallery in downtown Brooklyn. I was honored to be the one to help it along. It was also like being a one woman show, speaking with artists, curating, handling artwork delivery, pick up, being the art installer, writing and distributing press releases, managing sales, and additional event promotion. It was a busy and fulfilling time, in addition to the exhibitions we hosted artist talks and gallery concerts. There was always something happening.
At Clover's I got to work with 35 artists over the course of 10 months and 7 exhibitions. It also led me to curating an exhibition at CultureFIX on the LES with very short notice, but I have always been able to pull together an incredible group of artists, even on a tight time crunch when that is what needs to happen. The most meaningful relationship that came out of my time at Clover's Fine Art was meeting Danny Simmons.
I met Danny by a recommendation from Dudley Vacciannad who simply said, you have to meet Danny. Danny is an artist, curator, writer, philanthropist and one of the founders of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. I was fortunate to meet Danny while I was visiting his studio and got to include some of his pieces in an exhibition I was curating. Around the same time Clover's was struggling financially and cutting back my hours with the same expectations, and Danny invited me to gallery sit at Rush Arts in Chelsea. As a natural progression, I realized Derrick Adams and Nico Wheadon had recently left Rush Arts and I got the opportunity to become the Gallery Manager for Rush Arts Gallery in Chelsea and Corridor Gallery in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
I will forever be grateful for what Danny Simmons saw in me as he encouraged me to step up and I became the Director of Rush Arts Galleries. It was an thrilling time. I was there from 2010 to 2017. I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of artists, review artist submissions, review curatorial submissions, and so much more. The experience was eye opening, truly incredible and continues to inspire me today. My love of art and life long learning continues on. I have so many incredible things to say about my time working with Rush Arts, and I will share more in a future post.
Danny Simmons is a lot of things, inspiration being one of them. Enjoy this piece I wrote about Danny and his art and collection on view at the African American Museum of Fine Art in Philadelphia from 2015 - Check it out
There are so many wonderful things I would love to share about my own curatorial experiences and having the opportunity to work with phenomenal curators. Hank Willis Thomas was one of the first guest curators I worked with at Rush Arts in Winter 2011, the experience and education from that still resonates with me.
Since stepping into the Executive Director role at Pelham Art Center, and focusing on my own art studio practice, I do not curate as often, but I still love and respect the opportunity. I also love co-curating, working with an emerging curatorial voice and being a mentor. My most recent curatorial project was "IN/FLUX" in 2019 at Pelham Art Center co-curated with Victoria Rolett, focusing on artists and themes of immigration in art.
There are so many incredible ways to share art with people, and I know that is part of my own personal mission. I especially love working with an artist and then watching their career flourish. It is an honor. Some of the artists I worked with at Clover's have gone on to do great projects with international and museum exhibitions. It's awesome!
It was the Rockland Arts Festival 2022 that got me thinking about all of this. So thank you organizers for getting these gears in my mind working! I would especially like to thank the organizers of Rockland Arts Festival and the individuals who have reached out to me personally afterwards, you are awesome.
Here is where I keep track of the exhibitions I curate: To see my own curatorial history check out this page.
Highlights with photos - You can see some of the exhibition photos of past projects here.
FYI - Check out this project I am also currently involved in - Cover Lover Remix
Find out more about the Rockland Arts Festival here: https://www.rocklandartsfestival.org/