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In February this year our Exhibition Manager Jane Matthews was awarded a place on a fully funded engagement programme supported by Art Fund in the UK and the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) in the US.

This year-long development programme for up to five UK-based curators promotes experience and learning while raising the profile of associated institutions and collections abroad. Through a partnering process with US institutions the programme aims to broker new relationships, stimulating collaboration on all areas of activity from research, to loans and public programmes.

This week Jane should be in Seattle attending the AAMC Art Curators Conference and making the initial links with her US liaison partner based at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Despite being on furlough leave Jane is able to participate in the alternative online version of the conference (as the scheme allows for training opportunities), and here she outlines what’s going on!

DAY 1

Obviously disappointed not to be in Seattle but it’s fine to be connected to artists and curators in multiple time zones from the comfort of my own sofa. I’ve been introduced to ideas and projects from Toronto to Mexico City to Hong Kong, considering topics as varied as social practice within indigenous communities to addressing inclusion and exclusion within major organisations. Celebrating regionalism, the speakers and panel members discuss working across borders to break down geographical, cultural and societal boundaries and broaden ideas and opportunities. My notebook fills with ideas.

DAY 2: A COVID MOMENT...

Some fairly existential discussions today around the negative impact (on the Arts) of our current pandemic and what needs to change to save institutions from the effects of COVID-19. It’s thought that 30% of US museums won’t survive this situation. Discussions focus on how to reimagine the work the surviving institutions deliver, how to provide equitable audience access to art and how to keep public and staff safe while still providing real-time, real-life engagement and exhibitions. It also provides an opportunity to rethink other important issues like sustainability and the climate footprint of large blockbuster exhibitions. Phrase of the day: ‘front-burner issue’.

DAY 3

Speakers consider globalisation and how this relates to a local context, how to encompass and include diverse cultures and communities and how to cultivate an appetite for collaboration. It was agreed that the current situation has laid bare inequities in the museum/gallery framework and presents an opportunity for change. Can we be flexible enough not to let things go back to how they were before? Rethinking, building trust and collaborating are positive steps in a creative mandate. This is a discussion centred around established galleries and US federal institutions that are a world away from Shetland but there are common threads; we’re all citizens and this pandemic has revealed how much people need creativity, especially at a time like this.

DAY 4

A zoom meeting with the other participants in the engagement programme. Over the next year I’ll be exploring more themes and ideas with a cohort of curators, from the UK, Prague, Taiwan and organisations and institutions across the US. We’ll have the opportunity to think beyond our usual/immediate spheres and consider new perspectives on how we present, programme and interpret art. We'll work together on creating a public conversation around an agreed topic.

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