The Curatorial Role: Humanities in Action

By Eva Kekou, 4Humanities International Correspondent

In today’s conservative fiscal climate, the role of a curator in cultural institutions has become even more complex. A curator’s role is more institutionalized than an artist – who reflects his or her own ideas and expressions – and thus it can be seen to reflect important cultural attitudes as they change. Below are some thoughts on the complexity of the curatorial job, a serious task undertaken in many art institutions around the globe.

The role of curator in a contemporary setting demands the application of multiple skills and proficiencies across a wide field of reference. Balancing administrative, managerial and technical concerns with aesthetic and artistic issues requires an aptitude for both inspired communication and artful organization. Maintaining an awareness of current cultural affairs, critical thought, and historical context – all important skills fostered by the humanities – are vital to curatorial work if it is to be relevant and remain part of a larger discourse.

Although a curator often works within the guidelines and precepts of a particular institution, there are often specific local ethical, societal or political considerations that must be examined and dealt with attentively. The curator is in a relationship not only with an artifact and its context, but also with the public and the scrutiny of society as a whole. Issues such as the representation of children or religious iconography, for example, must be carefully thought through and examined in conjunction with the artist’s intent, and must be placed in both contemporary and historical contexts with precision and astute sensitivity. In times of fiscal restraint and sudden budget cuts, the fully prepared curator, with the community on his or her side, is more able to withstand stressful outside circumstances and find supportive alternatives and solutions.

Working with artists in an organic and dynamic way, the curator has an opportunity to become not only the facilitator of a unique vision, but also a temporary collaborator in a unique experience in time and place. Emphasizing the genuine intent to ensure the work is expressed to its fullest potential will carry both artist and curator through unavoidable conflicts or disagreements. Flexibility and adaptability, creative qualities in of themselves, become attributes both the artist and curator share during any successful collaborative relationship, benefiting the individual, the institution and society as a whole.

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