Tell us about what you do at the Art Gallery of Alberta! Could you describe a typical day at the AGA and what the roles and responsibilities are of someone in your position?
I work with a team of preparators to install the exhibitions at the AGA and maintain the collection. A typical day is hard to define because our jobs can change drastically depending on what's happening but during exhibition install: we're often busy building or tearing down walls, un-crating and unpacking artworks, hanging paintings and drawings, moving and placing sculpture, setting up TVs and projectors, hanging labels, installing signage, lighting and more. Outside of that, we're often preparing for future shows by building displays fixtures or researching AV equipment. We also process the collection artworks which could involve framing, crating, etc.
During all of this, it's my job to oversee the installs, organize the crew, assign tasks and facilitate assistance for artists. Some installs can get really busy and change quickly so I'm often keeping tabs on information and adjusting workflow as needed. I also work with our curatorial team and artists to plan and develop future shows.
Working behind the scenes sounds very cool. What do you enjoy about your job as a preparator and what are some challenges you face in this position?
There are a lot of reasons I really like my job. I get to work in a hands-on creative space where something new is happening all the time. One week, you might be hanging 500-year-old masterpieces and the next week, you’re installing a hot tub. This ever-evolving environment creates some real challenges and makes for some intense pressure. How do you get that 20' long whale sculpture upstairs? How do you hang that 300-pound painting? Will it all be done in time? Honestly, I think part of what draws me to this work is the problem solving and the never-ending opportunities to learn new skills. On top of all this, I get to work with some truly talented and amazing people.
Being a preparator seems like a position that requires a wide variety of skills and abilities. How does one become a preparator and how did you become one?
Preparators tend to have quite a varied skillset and becoming one is a combination of education, experience and personality. I started as an artist and have a BFA in Painting. After graduating from ACAD, I began working part-time as a gallery educator at Profiles Public Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of St. Albert). I started assisting with installs and eventually took over the responsibility of carrying them out myself. I'd never heard of a preparator up until that job but I soon realized it was a career I wanted to pursue and applied to the Preparator Practicum Program at the Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre where I installed shows with a very experienced preparator. As I finished that program, the AGA was just reopening the new building and looking for part-time preparators to help install the first series of exhibitions. I was hired on and the rest is history 😊
You’ve had a lot of experience in the art scene and worked at some cool locations across Alberta. Can you share a favourite experience in your career?
Working as a practicum student at the Banff Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery was absolutely one of the most influential art experiences of my life. It's an undeniably beautiful and creative place. Many consider Banff a busy tourist town but up at the centre, it can feel like you're in the middle of nowhere which gave me freedom to focus on my work as well as time to explore new skills and expand my own art practice. I learned so much from my mentor, the entire curatorial and visual arts teams and the artists and practicum students many of whom came to Banff from all around the world.
You mentioned that you get to work with the AGA’s collection. With over 6,000 objects to choose from, can you narrow down your favourite AGA collection piece?
Simon Black’s “Bloat.” It just makes me smile every time I see it and the artist actually used to work as a preparator at the Art Gallery of Alberta. The process he used to make this piece is really interesting too. From what I understand, he welded very thin sheets of metal together and ran water through it at a very high pressure to essentially “blow it up.”
You’ve been with the AGA for over a decade which means you have had the opportunity to work on so many interesting shows! What is an exhibition that you are proud of in terms of installation?
At this point, I've worked on over 200 exhibitions and while it's tough to pick one, a few more recent shows stand out: The Canadian Biennial (Turbulent Landings, 2017), Peter von Tiesenhausen (Songs of Pythagoras, 2018) and William Kentridge (More Sweetly Play the Dance, 2019).