Monday, May 18, is International Museum Day, an annual occasion for museums of all kinds to celebrate and reflect on the role of museums in society. COVID-19 has temporarily closed the doors of museums all over the world, but the creative responses of so many institutions shows that if there is one essential element of what museums do it’s that they bring people together for shared experiences and conversations – even if it has to be done remotely.
There are many people who make this sharing of experiences and conversations possible. Some, like interpretive staff, educators and guest services staff, you meet every time you visit. Others, like preparators, administrators and marketing staff, work hard behind the scenes to keep the artwork on the walls, the organization running and the public informed about our ever-changing exhibitions. It’s the curators who do the work of bringing together artists, artworks and contextual research to produce the exhibitions, with which we are able to share the experiences and conversations that are so essential to the missions of today’s museums.
This week follow along on AGA social media to get to know the curators who have created some of your favourite AGA exhibitions. Five AGA curators will be taking over our social media to share their personal museum memories, favourite projects, meaningful artworks and great art trips.
Catherine Crowston, Executive Director and Chief Curator
I am Catherine Crowston, Executive Director and Chief Curator at the AGA. I grew up and studied in Toronto, and my first curatorial project was working on a travelling exhibition of the work of the great Calgary artist, Mary Scott, with Bruce Grenville, who also lived in Toronto at the time. My first full-time curatorial position was as Assistant Curator at the Art Gallery of York University; it was a great opportunity to be at the AGYU in the time that is established itself as a major contemporary art centre, under the direction of Loretta Yarlow. I made the big move to Alberta in 1995 to accept the position of Curator at the Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre, and work with Diana Augaitis and Sara Diamond. What a great place, dedicated to artists, creativity, interdisciplinarity and experimentation. Many of the people that I met in Banff remain an important part of my life today. In 1998, I moved to Edmonton to become Senior Curator at the Edmonton Art Gallery. I am so thankful to have been involved in the transformation of the EAG to the AGA, the construction of the new building and the work that the AGA team continues to do, working with artists, curators and museums across the country and around the world. If I had to select one thing that defines my approach to my work it would be the importance of collaboration, partnerships and relationships. Museums are made of and for people, and I have had the opportunity to work so many incredible people throughout my career. I would like to thank and acknowledge every one of them. Happy International Museums Day!
Lindsey Sharman, Curator
I am Lindsey Sharman and I am the curator at the AGA. Before coming to Edmonton two years ago, I studied art history and curating in Canada, England, Switzerland, and Austria and worked at the University of Calgary. I have been lucky to travel all over the world to look at art, from Palestine, to Iceland, to Mexico. I am interested in art as an experience, something that can engage your whole body and your whole mind. Not just something that you can look at, but something to hold, to smell, maybe even to taste, or swim in! I think art is a part of life, so it’s something that you can experience with all your senses. One of the most exciting exhibitions that I have worked on at the AGA has been Nests for the End of the World. I worked on this exhibition with the artists Cindy Baker and Ruth Cuthand and helped them install a fully functioning hot tub in the gallery. This exhibition is a lot of fun but also makes you think of uncomfortable truths, and that’s the beautiful balance that I think art can achieve.
Leonore-Namkha Beschi, Curator of Interpretation and Engagement
Hello, my name is Leonore-Namkha Beschi and I am the Curator of Interpretation & Engagement at the AGA. As a museum practitioner with extensive experience in exhibition-making and art publications, my core interests and knowledge lie in modern and contemporary practices, gained through travels and immersion in international art scenes.
I spent the formative years of my career in the Middle East where I worked alongside renowned international curators such as Abdellah Karroum, Catherine David, Sam Bardaouil & Till Fellrath and Hans Ulrich Obrist on a wide range of exhibition projects which were part of the emergence of this region as a platform for dialogue and curatorial research on Arab modernity.
In my current position at the gallery, I have the opportunity to work closely with curators, artists, and local community members, but also with an incredible team of interpreters who are here to guide you and answer all your questions when you visit us. My main focus consists of the conceptualization and the delivery of exhibition-related engagement programs through hands-on activities and interpretive materials.
I am passionate about discovering and understanding different worldviews and to me, curiosity is key to creating infinite learning opportunities in daily life.
Amery Calvelli, Adjunct Curator, Poole Centre of Design
I'm Amery Calvelli, Adjunct Curator of Design at the Poole Centre of Design. I’m curious about many things, mostly how people interact with place. I’ve curated and co-curated exhibitions at the AGA including: Cul-de-Sac, From Here, Convening Place, another Landscape show and Nests for the End of the World. I also lead a non-profit, d.talks, focused on advancing discourse on design and the built environment.
One of the challenges facing design is the need to address inequity. Design can play a role in helping us to observe environmental and social blind spots that, collectively, we must identify. In Cul-de-Sac, Anishinaabe Elder and architect Douglas Cardinal revealed a design process concerned with how we live in harmony with all life, not just with humans. Designing within a lineage of multiple generations Cardinal’s work reveals new questions around the relationship between human life and ecological sustainability. Cree architect Jake Chakasim, in Nests for the End of the World, creates a structure called Wapimisow, (translated as the ability to see a multiple reflection of oneself) exploring the meaning and layered consequences that result from the way that we build. The contemporary and the traditional are brought into conversation.
In a museum, design is a tool to question; to find the means to address the human condition with equity and sensitivity to the natural environment. It is a pleasure to contribute to such healthy dialogue. I hope you will continue to check out the work at the Poole Centre of Design.
Photo: Jesus Martin
Francesca Hebert-Spence, Adjunct Curator of Indigenous Art
Hi! My name is Franchesca Hebert-Spence and I am the Adjunct Curator of Indigenous Art at the AGA. I am an Anishinaabe cultural producer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. My grandmother was from Sagkeeng, Manitoba, which is north east of Winnipeg. I did my undergrad at Ishkabatens Waasa Gaa Inaabateg, Brandon University Visual and Aboriginal Arts program, learning from folks like Lin Xu, Colleen Cutschall, Cathy Mattes and Peter Morin. My Tuesday evenings would be spent with the Beading Babes (admittedly I spent more time snacking and talking than beading or refilling folks’ tea). All of this propelled the projects and interests I’d carry forward to my Masters in the University of Winnipeg Curatorial Program with Serena Keshavjee, Heather Snell and Julie Nagam. Outside of my professional and academic life, I enjoy video games, will talk hours on end about cats, and cruise Instagram looking at beading.
As a curator, I try to practice plurality of voices within the projects I coordinate, from exhibitions to gatherings. Kinship is what directs this engagement and what my social obligations are to my various communities. My research interests look at the institution itself, their collective and individual histories, and how to integrate models of care into these structures. As a curator who started in a Fine Arts Program, I have firsthand material knowledge and I like to think this helps me access what artists are exploring in their work! Exhibitions at the AGA have tapped into these interests from StretchMark to critically deconstructing narratives around landscape in another Landscape show, and our recent exhibition Nests for the End of the World.