I first met Dhikshana Turakhia Pering when she joined my team as Head of Engagement and Skills at Somerset House, London, in January 2020, just as a pandemic engulfed the world.

We sadly only worked together for three months, but in that time we established a brilliant, supportive working relationship and I remain a fervent champion of Dhikshana.

I love her dynamic creative leadership, cheeky sense of humour, optimism, enthusiasm, and dogged determination to instigate change for the greater good.

She is down to earth, playful, brave, refreshingly honest and takes risks to clear the way for others to thrive and demonstrate excellence.

Dhikshana has recently been appointed as the first Director of Programmes for the National Saturday Club, leading the creative direction of their education programme of national events.

The National Saturday Club enables 13–16-year-olds across the UK with opportunities to develop valuable creative and practical skills, increase their confidence, and introduce them to pathways to further and higher education and rewarding careers.

Dhikshana Turakhia Pering, Photo Courtney Hugh Campbell

At Somerset House Dhikshana focused on a new strategy for the team, with a focus on young people’s engagement and skills development, coproduction of new work with their onsite creative community and content development around the cultural programme. During 2020 she led on what a post Covid-19 engagement programme would look like and the organisation’s Anti-Racism Pledge.

Dhikshana’s career has been built in London over 16 years, working in learning and engagement across the Science Museum, London Transport Museum, and Brent 2020 – London Borough of Culture. She has led teams and collaborated with different audiences, but has found her interest lies with young adults, skills development, and coproduction, and exploring the use of digital mediums and public space in a cultural context.

Dhikshana holds two master’s degrees in History and Art History from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland and in Museum and Gallery Education from UCL Institute of Education, London.

She has lectured widely and given talks on master’s courses including at UCL Institute of Education, London, and at national and international conferences, seeking to share and learn from best practice, and actively be part of the change she desires to see.

Dhikshana is an active member and finds great solidarity, solace, and support in the Museum Detox network. Dhikshana was an elected Trustee of the Museums Association since 2016, actively working on sector-wide workforce developments and co-led and launched their Learning & Engagement Manifesto. In 2022 Dhikshana was appointed to the board of Clore Leadership.

Film still from the Future Producers' Rising: A Manifesto, 2021, Courtesy of Edwin Mingard and Somerset House Trust

What’s currently inspiring you?

So many ways to explore this question but I’m going to start with joy. If I feel joy personally then all else follows well. It starts with schmaltz, from the rom coms, coming of age themes, the montage style flash forwards, the dazzling poppy bright colours, the list could go on. From an early age I was drawn to stories, music, television, and films that fit this bill, maybe it was to escape but it also inspired me and fed into my education and career. As I grew older, I was still drawn to this genre, but it became apparent that it was not representing me or my life and that is the shift I have seen in the last few years. So right now, I have just watched season 3 of Never Have I Ever, listened to lots of music produced by Jack Antonoff and reading Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades. If I could choose somebody to write and direct a rom com of my life it would be directed by Mindy Kaling and Parminder Nagra would play me!

What are you working on?

A moment of change that is about to bring the calm I am looking for, according to my recent Tarot Card reading. I have just finished nearly 3 years of being the Head of Engagement & Skills at Somerset House. My time at Somerset House has been wild and joyful (sometimes) all in one, and I am proud of what we have achieved in the Engagement & Skills team and wider across Somerset House Trust responding to society and what is happening right now on the ground.

I am super excited to be joining National Saturday Club as their values and practice align to what I deeply believe in, which is that access to the cultural and creative sector for enjoyment and employment should not be directed by who you know or where you grew up. To be able to align my passion and experience, while I learn and grow with the participants, tutors and partners and shape the future of the National Saturday Club programme with the wider team is an amazing opportunity. Also, can I say "Mama, I have made it" a quote from a brilliant young woman I knew called Khadija Saye, who sadly passed in the Grenfell fire with her Mama, but when I got the job, I thought of her and that quote.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your work? What do you care about?

In 2017 I had the pleasure to take part in the Clore Leadership Short course. It was a life changing moment in my life, I was sitting on my first board, looking at what my next step may be career wise, and about to have a baby. As part of the course, we had a coaching session and my coach and I decided to write a mission statement to help me focus and navigate a lot of change.

Since then, I have manifested this mission statement several times over. I have updated the language slightly, but overall, it has stayed the same. It guides me day to day even when I don’t realise it and incorporates:

  • Life balance
  • Being my true self
  • Working in and with a team
  • Having fun in a team and organisation
  • Giving young people a voice
  • Collaboration on a vision
  • A brilliant programme – well run, effective and has impact
  • Constantly refining a programme
  • Links to popular culture and issues of our time
  • Strategy and vision
  • Representation

Can you provide an example of how you have commissioned artists recently?

In my time at Somerset House, I have worked with artists in a coproduction model in several ways, a flag and film commission linked to our No Comply exhibition with Rose Nordin for OOMK and artist Seth Pimlott. Both worked with our first cohort of Future Producers to explore the themes and create the design of the flag and the storyboard and content of the final film.

While at Brent 2020 as the Young People’s Producer the young people I worked with led a public space design and policy project called Seen and Heard. The aim of the project was to design the space for use and develop a charter and policy guidelines to advise local authorities across the country on how young people should be consulted on development in their area and be part of the solutions to social issues such a knife crime. Collaborating with partners such as LSE Cities, design collective OOMK and developer Quintain, the young people gained skills, learnt about different sectors, made a physical impact on their community and a policy impact on how young people should be seen all in a creative way.

Future Producers' workshop for Rising: A Manifesto, 2021, Photo courtesy of Somerset House Trust

How did you select them and what were the stages in the commissioning process?

I have been commissioning artists for coproduction with young people since 2015, this has ranged from exhibitions, digital content, and events. On reflection I can see whether my role was as the producer leading the planning and delivery, or the Head of Department guiding a team to commission artists, my focus is to create the right environment to enable three clear elements come together. The three elements are artist, young people, and institution together, creating exciting content that has representation and social justice at its core. I think of it like a fire tringle you need the oxygen, heat, and fuel, the content is the fire and the team that make it happen the scientists.

I set clear vision and guiding principles, so everyone is on the same page, as well as make sure as team we have collaboratively decided the vibe that we are going for across our programme to make sure there is consistency and clarity for our audiences to know what to expect. But none of this hinders the commissioning process as the content created is free to go on the unexpected journey of the coproduction, but the structures I mentioned give bumpers to slide everyone back on to track for what we are trying to achieve.

Once we have an idea about what the shell of the commission would look like we think about our networks, and wider, and then approach a few different artists to discuss the opportunity with and see if it fits for them. Things can chop and change at this point. After that we decide on who we are going with, get the boring paperwork out the way and work on session plans and timelines collaboratively and then get to the best bit making stuff happen!

Seen and Heard workshop, Courtesy of Brent 2020, London Borough of Culture

What advice do you have for artists who want to work with arts institutions and museums?

I would say reach out, say what idea you have, and what connections you may be able to make with the programme you have seen come out of the institution. Don’t spend ages on a big fancy document or brief, just share some very topline thoughts and then if it connects you may get a follow up meeting. If it doesn’t, don’t take it badly, it may just not work right now but you’re on their radar for sure!

A lot of institutions programme ahead of time (like 20 years!) so they may not be able to ever think how they can work with you there and then but learning and engagement teams have more flex. So maybe consider looking at ways you can connect with a team dreaming up and delivering exciting content for audiences visiting and to bring in new audiences.

Institutions can hold the process and practicalities for you (that boring paperwork) so the creative vison and engagement needed with the young people or community you’re engaging with can be focused on. Utilise the producer or manager you are working with to support in holding and advising on what their role can be so you can focus on the longer-term creative journey.

If entering a commission process that is a coproduction be ready to not have the final say or even know the outcome the ‘fire triangle’ model allows a collaboration that is uncharted, and the journey is as important as the final piece of work.

What risks have you taken in the past that did not go well but you learnt the most from?

A few - I started small and they have got bigger! I say to anyone I work with take a risk, make a mistake as that’s the only way we and things change and move.

In one job I thought I could change a database setting myself and ended up inviting a years’ worth of schools to sessions when we already were fully booked. I owned up with lots of apologies, and then my boss concluded that we did need to change the database, so I led on it!

Launching a brand-new programme in the middle of a pandemic (I thought we were coming out the other side, optimism on my part was high!) meant we could not set the programme up as we wanted. This resulted in a lot of online fatigue, things being paused which led to difficult conversations on all sides. After some evaluation and mediation, a clear way to move forward was presented and whilst still not perfect, there are some exciting next steps for this programme strand, and we would not have got there if we had not risked launching it in the first place.

The biggest risk recently well in the last few years that’s standing up for myself and making my voice heard. Not really a risk, right? We should just be doing that. Well one time I did it ahead of starting at Somerset House and it backfired. It led to me being ignored and belittled in front of peers and partners. It hurt a lot. I knew I could leave, which I did, but what I learnt from it was that while it was hard, and it didn’t change anything in the bigger picture, it did for me personally.

It showed me my voice should matter, but it should mater to me that I am speaking my truth and putting it out there. Since then, I have done it again and this time it was heard and changed has happened.

What would you like to change in the arts?

The duplication of programmes that are all trying to do the same thing. Some of that is down to lack of strategy in local authorities about what is being delivered in an area, some of that is down to arm’s length bodies asking for more programmes rather than joining up existing ones to have a strategic impact and finally it is funders that want new and improved programmes to secure more funding rather than seeing success and allowing funding to grow and create a strategic impact of existing programmes.

So, what would I like to see change is how we bring this all together, map it out and create a bedrock of sharing and signposting to great programmes and resources around the work of learning and engagement.

Can you tell I am dyslexic and like process and clarity? I also just like making sure no one must start from scratch!

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Below is a list of organisations that will hopefuly help artists investigate organisations and bodies that are key to the work of the sector.

Resources to help navigate and deliver:

Museums Association is a membership organisation that campaigns for socially engaged museums and a representative workforce

OF/BY/FOR ALL provides tools, community, accountability, and coaching on radical inclusion

Creative People Places is a funding programme which focuses on parts of the country where involvement in creativity and culture is significantly below the national average

Paul Hamlyn Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK, supporting social change

Durham University; Creativity Commission Report and Recommendations is a joint research collaboration between Durham University and Arts Council England, set up to look at the role creativity and creative thinking should play in the education of young people

Gem enables learning across museum, heritage, and cultural settings

Engage are the leading charity for promoting engagement and participation in the visual arts

Examples of organisations doing the work:

Arts Emergency mentoring charity and support network for young people to enable them to flourish in higher education and the cultural industries.

Take Apart make great art with communities

Somerset House is home to the UK’s largest creative community working across art, technology, business, and social enterprise

National Museum Wales is charity comprising of seven national museums and one collections centre

Horniman Museum brings together art, nature, and its myriad collections

Glasgow Womens Library is dedicated to women’s lives, histories, and achievements

Museum of Homelessness exhibitions, events and research tackling homelessness and inequality run by people with experience of homelessness

Pitt Rivers Museum houses more than 500,000 objects, photographs, and manuscripts from all over the world

Company Three is a theatre company led by the ideas of their seventy-five members aged 11-19

Resolve Collective is design collective combining architecture, engineering, technology, and art to address social challenges

Ferarts is an artist-led collective platforming emerging socially - engaged creatives from diverse communities

Mindspray unites creative leaders to establish sustainable links between community, careers, and wellbeing

Culture& opens up the arts and heritage sectors through workforce initiatives and public programmes

Roundhouse provides thousands of 11–25-year-olds the chance to develop their skills and confidence through creativity in music, media, or the performing arts

Blaze Arts is a youth led, arts charity born in Lancashire

What advice do you have for people who want a career in the arts?

Don’t decide what your full career plan is. The arts, like the rest of the world are changing fast and the job you may do one day doesn’t even exist yet. The last three jobs I had were not a thing when I started my career in 2006.

Money is important. Work out what it is you need to live your life well and see negotiation of a fee or salary as a place to explore not just more money, but flexibility in how your work, where you work, annual leave and support in the form of mentoring or coaching for example. These things have value too and may enable you to live and work in a happier and more successful way.

My checklist of unlocking your power is…

  • Be your brilliant self… and own it
  • Be clear in your own guiding principles for life and work
  • Check the organisations you’re approaching to work with and for – do they fit with your guiding principles?
  • Connect with networks…most importantly the people in them
  • Listen to your gut…it speaks the truth (and tells you when your hungry)
  • Learn the groundwork, understand it from processes to how and why things are done as they are done - you can’t change the model if you don’t know how it works
  • Quiet leadership is a thing, and you can do it even before you have the ‘title’
  • It’s ok to walk away…that is power
  • Share the power…when you have it

Follow Dhikshana on Instagram @d.t.pering and visit Saturday Club


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Creative Director: GAYLENE GOULD

Artist Zak Ové introduced me to Gaylene Gould in 2018, whilst we were working together on the exhibition Get Up Stand Up Now at Somerset House, London.

Gaylene was Head of Cinemas and Events at BFI Southbank at the time, and we met to discuss joint programming a public event, showcasing key films by Zak’s father, Horace Ové CBE. I was struck by Gaylene’s positivity and her warm, open, considerate, and grounded demeanour. I recall thinking that I wish I’d met her sooner.

I connected with Gaylene’s passionate belief in parity, equality, social justice, and her spirit of generosity combined with a can-do attitude. Curiously, unbeknown to me at the time, we were both ruminating quietly on new possibilities for our own creative practice and leadership responsibilities.

Since then, we have both taken a leap into the unknown, having left our senior roles in art institutions at roughly the same time to chart new territories and redefine our own contribution to the sector. We share a love of learning, of taking risks, a commitment to coaching, and of the power of making space for creativity and each other.

Gaylene Gould, Photo Nina J Robinson

Gaylene Gould is the Founder and Creative Director of The Space To Come which creates interactive art projects that aim to generously transform our connections to ourselves, each other, and the world. Her collaborative practice explores the healing and growth potential of sharing space, stories, ideas and knowledge.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I’ve carefully curated my cultural intake during the pandemic. The world is full of high drama right now so I’m imbibing intimate human stories, contemporary myth and ‘new world’ thinkers.  I was lucky enough to be on the BAFTA film jury this year so saw some wonderful films. It seems I’m not the only one drawn to the intimate and profound this year. I had my heart blown open by Chloe Zhao’s Oscar-tipped Nomadland, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari and Darius Marder’s The Sound of Metal starring the finest actor of our generation IMO Riz Ahmed. After the rightful noise created by #BAFTAsowhite, it’s great to see East and South Asian film talent getting their due. Also, scaredy-cat that I am, I was so thankful for Remi Weekes British social-horror His House that I watched it twice.

My bedtime audio books gave me much needed perspective by offering contemporary versions of ancient myths. Hat tip goes to Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch, Hawaiian writer Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks In The Times of Saviours and Ben Okri’s The Freedom Artist.

And if it wasn’t for new-world philosopher Bayo Akomalafe I think I would have festered in a pit of despair. His online course, which took place through the darkest days of the pandemic, helped me grasp the transformative potential of these global ‘cracks’ and shifts. His work reminds that a truly sustainable new world will emerge from these places.

Listening to Ourselves, Curtis & Curtis, Photo Nina J Robinson

What are you working on right now?

I have just launched my creative (ad)venture The Space To Come, a company that tests ways art can connect, heal, and transform our relationships to ourselves and each other. TSTC brings together two of my life-long practices – coaching and curation. I’m curious how artists, healers and the public can co-create sensitive spaces to reflect, repair and reimagine new relationships.

I’ve been cultivating this practice for a few years but, given the crumbling state of the old world and the urgency to create a new one, the time is now for this work. Sometimes the “space” can be an interactive art project, a participatory workshop or a residency within a community. For instance, we’re about to curate a series of conversation dinners between the people of Newcastle-Under-Lyme for Appetite to encourage more intimate and compassionate connections. Meanwhile we’re developing a live programme with the Arnolfini gallery that will invite “felt-sense” experiences of artworks inspired by my radio 4 documentary Transcendence How Can I Feel Art Again?

Essentially our projects seek to use artistic forms to practice compassion and deepen our emotional intelligence.

Listening to Ourselves, Gaylene & Gaylene, Photo Nina J Robinson

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your work? What do you care about?

I believe there is a desperate need for compassionate societies. Compassion is more than a fluffy add-on. It is kindness in response to suffering. If stitched into our personal and social relations, compassion can radically transform how we approach ourselves and each other. Violence is a common response to unacknowledged suffering. If we can find transformative ways to first acknowledge that there is suffering, including our own, then there might be the possibility for collective renewal. Arts’ fascination with the unresolved, the search for beauty where none should exist, the spotlight on our flawed fragility, is a great starting point.

How has this last year affected your ideas of what you want your contribution to be in future?

Like many others, this past year has been deeply exposing. The removal of distracting temptations while living so closely with death has been disarming. I suppose we have now experienced what day to day life is like for much of the world.  I’m grieving, for the unnecessary deaths, the result of an uncompassionate leadership, while buoyed by the voices of resistance that are coalescing.   I am now clear that the Old World, the one built principally on shame, fear, prejudice and greed, is crumbling and it's time for a new one to emerge.

When I launched The Space To Come I felt like I was coming out. I’ve always felt at odds with the makeup of the world and my constant and failed attempts to fit in. My work is now about actively cultivating the values - awareness, compassion, connection, generosity - that could create a new foundation from which to build afresh – ideally before we terraform Mars.

Listening to Ourselves, Steve & Steve, Photo Nina J Robinson

What do you think should change in the arts and how can we actively contribute to bringing about this change?

A new world founded on new principles would allow for new art to flourish. I dream of a time when the study of our emotional, ancestral, and imaginative intelligence comes before the study of stuff. Imagine if we were taught to listen and connect in healing ways, be comfortable with vulnerability, learn how to support wider ecologies. Art would then take a different place in society.

Art could then be woven into the fabric of our lives rather than be viewed as “content” or investment. Artists would be respected as the chroniclers, matchmakers, builders, healers, truth-sayers, doulas and undertakers that they are. A painting could take our breath away in aisle 4 of Aldi and we could be served an operetta on the bus home. Spoken word poets would open PMQ’s and a dance-off would close the day. Our schools would let children lie on their backs and tell stories as well as stick to the lines of a book.  Amanda Gorman’s poem at Biden’s inauguration encapsulated so much more than hours of speeches ever could. She helped us collectively feel, release, and emotionally process an extraordinary period of our lives. And that’s the whole point of art.

We can help by releasing art into the wild, setting it free from the hallowed halls and allowing it to inspire more expansive and urgent conversations between us.

Do you have a favourite exhibition/project/event that you have curated and if so, what makes it particularly special to you?

The Space to Come’s first online project Listening to Ourselves feels like the foundation to the work we will explore here. It’s an audio-visual project that combines photographs of people, lockdown friends in fact, seemingly in conversation with themselves. Two soundtracks accompany the images. One is a new soundscape with suggestions of how the music can be used to inspire a more intentional conversation with yourself. An intentional conversation is a way to explore our own in-the-moment thinking. It’s an experiment in developing self-awareness or self-befriending. The second audio piece is a recording of me having such a conversation.

The pieces were developed and created with photographer Nina Robinson and Gianmaria Givanni/ANNN who is an architect and a sonic spatial composer. The piece invites people to try the exercise then send back an audio response which we will weave into a new audio piece.

Listening to Ourselves explores all my key inquiries. How might we build more intentional connections with ourselves and others? How might artistic practices inspire more instinctive responses? And how might we bring together disparate voices to create new, aware communities?

This work may seem like an exercise in self-care, and while that might be an affect, the roots are social and political. It’s about testing out a new basis for new types of relationships. We’ll need those in the new world.

Listening to Ourselves, Beki & Beki, Photo Nina J Robinson 

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial or creative relationship?

This practice offers all collaborators - artists, healers, and the public - the opportunity to share something we haven’t shared before in a new way. With The Solace Salons, I brought together coach/therapist Jackee Holder, creative researcher Dr Sindi Gordon and myself with choreographer Freddie Opoku Addaie, comic John Simmit and composer and visual artist Liz Gre. Together we devised a new form of ‘performance workshop’ where the stories explored were brought by the participants. This way of working requires the artistic collaborators and the participants to be courageous and vulnerable. This is a nascent process. It’s felt. We must be kind to ourselves and each other as things won’t necessarily work in the way we imagined. It also forces us to be alive to what is actually unfolding.

What risks have you taken in your career that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Being the youngest child I was a born risk taker. I often move before I have anything fully worked out. I recently left my job as Head of BFI Southbank in order to decolonise my career in a sense. I wanted to move past a certain kind of ‘Old World’ idea of linear progress and development. This led to the formation of The Space To Come. The trouble is when I try and explain the project, many don’t understand it! So, this might be a risk that doesn’t go so well. But I am learning the most fundamental lessons of my life so far such as inquiries are not outcomes. Inquiries are to be explored which means I need the courage to step off the beaten path and then to cultivate the attention required to pick my way through unbeaten territory. If I want to create a new way of living I must first prepare to let go of everything.

Mission to the Land of Misplaced Memories, 2014, Gaylene Gould / dubmorphology, Tate Britain

Who or what inspires or lifts you up?

Conversations that allow us to say things or reveal parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t usually. Within each of us there is a library of experiences and emotional complexities.  Conversations with friends, family, shop assistants, the person in front of in the coffee queue….Satiating my salacious interest in people revives me. My broader passion in stories and art stems from this desire for human understanding and a deeper awareness.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Learn to have really great conversations with yourselves and others. Have rigorous conversations with yourselves that help you constantly review your held positions. Soothe your internal critic by practising Kristen Neff’s self-compassion exercises so you can hear your quieter voices. Practise spending time in unbeaten territory alone - even if it’s simply walking down streets you don’t recognise. Reveal your vulnerabilities to people then ask them kind, expansive questions in return. There are many resources that can help with craft but I think the work of creation is about activating a curiosity and befriending your own vulnerabilities.

Well Fed curated conversation dinner event, Photo Nina J Robinson

Do you have any advice for people wanting to work in the arts?

The Arts (capital A) is in a very contentious place. The growing commercial pressures can be distorting and the funded sector can be restricting and protectionist. Artists and cultural workers interested in new, expansive territories can find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Understanding the operating systems of these worlds whilst articulating and cleaving to your own value base seems particularly critical right now. Lucky for us, a brave new world is coming so it’s time to invent more values-led, compassionate spaces to exist in.

Follow Gaylene on Twitter @gaylene_g Instagram @gaylenegould / @thespacetocome or visit / 


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Producer Interview: ZERRITHA BROWN

I was introduced to the inspiring change-maker Zerritha Brown by Dhikshana Pering, Head of Engagement and Skills at Somerset House.

I was immediately struck by Zerritha's creative vision, her genuine desire to create opportunities for others and to platform the contribution of creative pioneers. She has a passion and commitment to effecting long-lasting social change through care, collaboration and co-production. She is warm, engaging, yet charmingly humble and self-effacing, which is admirable given her powerhouse credentials.

Zerritha hatches dynamic projects with creatives and audiences, rooting them in the community and contexts in which they are conceived, and they resonate way beyond their delivery date. She is a master of taking people with her on a wild and wonderful journey of creative exploration, guaranteeing outcomes that creatives, communities and global audiences connect with.

Zerritha Brown, Photo Roy Mehta 

Zerritha Brown is a Cultural Producer, Arts Manager and Leader with 20 years’ experience in community and participatory arts and large scale events. Over the last 10 years she has led on culture for Brent Council, most recently leading the production of the Brent 2020 No Bass Like Home digital archive and online festival, which captured the borough's reggae history through community stories, as well as the Windrush 70 exhibition, a heritage project co-produced with the community to celebrate the contributions of the Windrush community in Brent.

Her previous roles at Brent include Cultural Operations Manager responsible for the artistic and operational management of the new £10m flagship library, museum and cultural centre and London 2012 Manager for Brent responsible for the development of the borough's Cultural Olympiad programme and implementing the 2012 Olympic torch relay route and community engagement activations.

A Clore Leadership Programme Alumni, she is passionate about equality and access and committed to creating deep and meaningful engagement which effects lasting change.

Brent 2020 No Bass Like Home, Digital Archive Launch at Jamaican High Commission February 2020, Photo c/o Brent Council

What are you doing, reading, watching, or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I love listening to music, it nourishes my soul and keeps me positive. Reggae music, house and garage and cheesy 80's classic, all take me to happy places, connecting me to my youth, friends and family.

No Bass Like Home Online Festival, General Levy behind the scenes, November 2020, Image Credit Brent 2020

What are you working on right now?

Leading on the legacy of Brent's London Borough Culture, embedding culture across the organisation and continuing to build a cultural coalition across the council, with partners and the wider community.

Brent 2020 No Bass Like Home Bass Rewind Engagement Event, November 2019, Image c/o Zerritha Brown

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

I am passionate about communities, representation and inclusion and I’m committed to creating deep and meaningful engagement which effects lasting change. I love uncovering hidden histories and working with the community to create an artistic response. Over the last few years my practice has been focused on documenting black British history in Brent through the Windrush 70 exhibition and most recently the Brent 2020 No Bass Like Home digital reggae archive and online festival. At the heart of both projects was building meaningful relationships, embedding the projects in the community whilst connecting with nationally and international audiences.

Windrush 70: Brent’s Pioneering Generation exhibition 2018, Display case with original British Trinidad and Tobago Passports
and first edition copy of the Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon,
Photo ℅ Brent Museum and Archive

How have the events over the last year influenced your ideas of what you want your contribution to be in future?

The pandemic has been devastating on many counts for everyone, but there has been some chinks of’s brought out a sense of community and forced us to slowdown and take stock of the things that are important and drive us. Coming out of this, I think community, collaboration and well-being will be really important in the Covid19 recovery and the arts and culture are well placed to support this.

What do you think should change in the arts and how can we actively contribute to bringing about this change?

Throughout the multiple lock-downs we have seen people gravitate to culture, whether that be reading, singing, knitting or engaging with online content.

I think this demonstrates the need for culture but that also it comes in different shapes and forms and approaches. The future of the sector should use this an opportunity to look at place based culture so that we are truly creating experience which are representative and connect with wider audiences.

Of course representation and inclusion is also a priority. More opportunities for young producers, curators, artists to enter and progress in the sector, development and mentoring as well as representation at every level of the organisation, not just entry level but mid career and managers.

Windrush 70: Brent’s Pioneering Windrush Generation Exhibition, 2018, Intro panel, Photo ℅ Brent Museum and Archive

Do you have a favourite exhibition/project/event that you have curated and if so,
what makes it particularly special to you?

The Brent 2020 No Bass Like Home project was both a professional and personal journey for me. My father is one of the Trojan Records session musicians who came to the UK in the early 70's to promote reggae music and toured with many of the reggae greats including Dave and Ansell Collins, the Cimerons band and Jimmy Cliff so I grew up in reggae. No Bass Like Home sought to capture the reggae history of Brent which was home to labels such as Trojan Records, Jetstar as well as artists Janet Kay, General Levy to name a few.

This is a history that the reggae community know but outside of this it isn’t well documented.

This created a platform for unheard stories which as well as being on Spotify will now have permanent home in the boroughs archive to preserve the reggae history.

My highlight however was leading the creative vision for the No Bass Like Home Online festival, a 7 hour festival curated by Seani  streamed from Brent, Jamaica and Florida celebrating the borough as a powerhouse of production and distribution for reggae and black British music. As well as profiling local and international artists, it was important to me that the festival featured interviews from the community and pioneer artists who were integral to the reggae movement.  The stream has received over 100k online views and I’m absolutely thrilled that London Live will be airing it throughout February for Reggae Month. Having a dedicated reggae show on prime time TV is unheard of so I’m incredibly proud to have the opportunity to bring the boroughs rich reggae history to a wider audience.

Windrush 70: Brent’s Pioneering Generation exhibition 2018, Installation View, Photo ℅ Brent Museum and Archive

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

Creative freedom to create an artistic response, but I provide support and knowledge where needed. I act as an enabler, brokering relationships with other artists and the wider community and facilitating creative conversations.

What risks have you taken in your career that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I've made programming decisions which haven’t quite landed right and led to poor audience engagement. But I learnt from this that you need a strong marketing and communications strategy, thinking outside the the conventional methods but also developing trust and credibility with your audiences.

Brent 2020 No Bass Like Home Online Stream, Cimarons Band behind the scenes, November 2020 Image Credit, Brent 2020

Do you have any advice for people wanting to work in the arts?

It’s a great sector to be part of. People are genuinely passionate about creating work which engages, excites, sparks debate and encourages conversation.

My top tip would be to build your networks, both support and professional as they will be an invaluable support.

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Artist-Curator Interview: GAVIN WADE

I first met Gavin Wade in 2002, when I was working at Grizedale Arts and toured the artist-extravaganza Roadshow to Lickey Hills and the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. I have been consistently bowled over by his ideas, commitment, entrepreneurialism, energy and determination ever since.

He has devised and delivered some incredibly exciting and ambitious projects over the years, and Eastside Projects artist led gallery and incubator space is in itself a remarkable achievement.

Gavin and co-Director (and fellow artist) Ruth Claxton kindly invited me to join the Advisory Board of Eastside Projects around 2008. Over a couple of years, I gained first -hand experience of their inspiring, innovative and strategic leadership and ability to galvanise and instill confidence in artists and stakeholders alike.

Gavin is a creative pioneer - first and foremost an artist-curator but also exceptionally good at translating complex ideas to non arts audiences and enthusing others to support artists and their ideas. He makes space for dialogue and creates lush, inviting environments with artists that you want to dwell in and explore.

Gavin Wade and Sonia Boyce, 2020, photo by Vanley Burke

Gavin Wade is an artist-curator, Director of Eastside Projects, and Senior Research Fellow at Birmingham City University. His curated and co-curated exhibitions include Sonia Boyce: In the Castle of My Skin (2020), This is the Gallery and the Gallery is Many Things X (2018), Display Show (2015–16), Temple Bar Gallery/Eastside Projects/Stroom den Haag; Painting Show (2011–2012), and Narrative Show (2011) at Eastside Projects. Earlier exhibitions include Strategic Questions Venice, 52nd Venice Biennale (2007); Public Structures, Guangzhou Triennial, China (2005); ArtSheffield05: Spectator T (2005).

Gavin’s diverse sites for making and curating art include a Naval Frigate, Portsmouth Cathedral, Greenham Common, Clumber Park, The Piccadilly Line: London Underground, Dudley Zoo and the new Smithfield Market in the centre of Birmingham (2020–2025). His books include Upcycle This Book (2017); Has Man A Function In Universe (2008); and Curating In The 21st Century, (2000). Ongoing projects also include A-Z Display Units (After Kiesler & Krischanitz) (2015–) and Strategic Questions publishing project (2002–).

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

(14 May 2020) I just am positive! I watch a lot of TV. Quite a bit of Twitter and Instagram. I read comics. I watch plants grow. Exciting plants. Tilandsia. Cycads. Cyathias. Cacti. Diascoria. Pachipodiums. Good TV at the moment is DEVS. So good. Or an episode of Midnight Gospel. Lady Skollie recommended it to me. Before I realised it’s by Pendleton Ward who made Adventure Time. I love Adventure Time. Great art. One episode is enough at a time. Every day. Proper eye-opening family viewing (if your kids are late teens!). I’ve just finished the 3rd series of Ozark. Totally captivating and stressful but makes you so glad you didn’t get into money laundering or drugs! Brooklyn 99 I can watch over and over. Just started watching The Last Dance after reading Sean Edwards tweet about it being the thing he is looking forward to each week. It’s so good. I’m not even into basketball and was never the slightest bit interested in Michael Jordan but it’s captivating, compelling watching about the obsessive creative will to become, to win, to make a difference, to overcome.

I haven’t been reading so much because I totally splurged out on comics earlier this year. If I’d known I would have waited!  Just before lockdown I finished this mega boxset graphic novel of Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. At 8 volumes and 3000 pages it’s a joy to become immersed in this master of comic book making. He worked on it from 1972 to 1983 and it feels like an irreverent labour of love. It’s really really good. I might go and read Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga from start to halfway again. I just got into Jonathan Luna’s comics too. Waiting for Issue 4 of 20XX to come out. The ultimate pandemic comic. Only a very few survive but if you do, you gain telekinetic powers! Ironically Issue 4 has been delayed by lockdown in the States. Due out on 17 May, I think. How I will get a copy, I don’t know. But I will.

The keyworkers that affect me the most are these artists. I keep thinking about all the artfulness keeping people going in their heads as much as the practicalities and administration of our bodies, deliveries, power supplies, policing. TV, comics, music, stories, film, the art on our walls, our clothes, our mugs, everywhere.

Sonia Boyce, In the Castle of My Skin, 2020, Eastside Projects, curated by Sonia Boyce and Gavin Wade
Co-commissioned by Eastside Projects and MIMA. Photo by Stuart Whipps

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

Creativity. My own and others. Birmingham. Utopia. Freedom without fear. Visions. Magic. Points where systems intersect. Creating life. Dancing. Escaping. Committing. Supporting and feeling supported. Collaborating. Improving. Patterns. Love.

Monster Chetwynd, Hell Mouth 3, 2019 (with Guttersnipe performing at Supersonic Festival) Curated by Gavin Wade, co-commissioned by Eastside Projects and Capsule/Home of Metal

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

Make exhibitions. Write exhibitions. Draw exhibitions. Teach exhibitions. Speak exhibitions. Dream exhibitions. Argue exhibitions. Be exhibitions.

(17 September 2020) Four months has passed since I sent you those answers back in early May. Feels like the whole world has changed and looped back on itself in that time. Looking back at my previous answers it puts into focus how much interviews and answering questions is so dependent on what is happening around you on that day, week. How you’re feeling at the time. How much time you really have to think about these things. When self reflection is useful or not. I’m still positive but definitely feel more measured about just leaping into the void than perhaps some of those previous answers. I might continue the answer to that last question:

Save exhibitions. Resuscitate exhibitions. Free exhibitions. Reimagine exhibitions. Let exhibitions go. If you can. If you have the time and the space and the support and the freedom to.

In truth, exhibitions are testing and scoping. It is the form of doing exactly that. I don’t think you need other ways of measuring the form of exhibition. It’s enough in itself. Exhibition is life lived successfully. That’s what I mean. I’m not into the bureaucratising of exhibition. I’ve been into the exhibiting of bureaucratic systems sometimes. Putting them to better use. Bureaucracy is pointless in and of itself. Exhibition always has a point.

This is the Gallery and the Gallery is Many Things X, 2018, (Truemendous performing with Libita Clayton, Etel Adnan tapestry behind) photo by Zunaira Muzaffar

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

One of the joys of running Eastside Projects is that insight and chance to experience so many other artists works. We made the Extra Ordinary People (EOP) open call for a show in our second gallery earlier this year and had probably the strongest set of applications we have ever had. It was following on the heels of Lindsey Mendick’s powerful EOP exhibition, The Yellow Wallpaper, which had inspired many emerging artists to go for it, I think, and make an ambitious proposal to us. We interviewed eight artists as there were so many strong applications. It was a joy to meet them all on zoom and talk about what could be. The downside to having so many artists apply is the sadness of not being able to offer them all projects. But, Lindsey had applied a number of times in the past for shows and projects and not quite made it but we were really excited by her work, and it paid off in the end, for us, and for her. And the same this time. We have ended up offering to work with three of the artists we interviewed instead of just one. For the first time we just felt one of the applications was too big for the second gallery and so we have invited Emii Alrai to develop a show for our main gallery in Autumn 2021. I was so excited by Emii’s work, and the images we saw of the show she has made at Tetley in Leeds, and how she spoke about the work. Honest, direct, confident in her skills and sources and intentions. Emii spoke of medieval hunting, woven mazes, animal traps, all through the lense of colonialism and Iraqi heritage, a display that she loved in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and making, making, making. Ruth Claxton, Associate Director here at EP and artist of course, and I both felt so energised by meeting her and seeing the work. A similar feeling as when we went to visit Samara Scott years ago in her studio and offered her the main gallery show in 2015. It can be so significant to work with an artist in their emerging years, in this case Emii is in her late 20s, to develop a big show together. If the time is right, it’s right.

We also invited Leah Clements to make a new immersive show in the second gallery in May next year alongside the show we are developing and co-curating with Harold Offeh and Dance Xchange next year. Leah hypnotised us with incredible sounds and spoke of the sirens of the deep calling to deep sea divers. She proposed a new work that uses light and sound and form to control a sublime moment, an attempt to create a moment of bliss and weightlessness. Very excited to see how the show develops.

And we also loved Sarah Maple’s works and proposal to make a type of short TV series of short films around language. Learning Punjabi in the UK and the slips in languages between different generations that you just become more aware of as you work with more people from different cultures that make up what the UK is, sharing learnings and insights. I hope we can support Sarah’s sharp, funny work to get the attention it deserves. It should be prime time viewing. Lots to do.

There’s so many artists to talk about. I’ve just loved working with Luke Routledge who has made a super ambitious show alongside Emma Talbot’s show in the main gallery. It’s great to see the seeds of an idea in someone like Luke, a great maker here in Birmingham, and be able to offer support and advise over the last couple of years and watch as he turns his dream into a reality with a show like Strange Matter. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Luc Pheles, now going by Mwana Nkisi, and see his initial drawings flourish and grow into the stunning detailed drawn objects he is making as part of Sonia Boyce’s In the Castle of My Skin. The chance to link up young artists with powerhouses like Sonia is so great, so much learning in both directions, and Mwana will make new works for MIMA next too, so a great chance for others across the UK to experience his work.

Luc Pheles (Mwani Nkisi) Ishango, 2020, Ink and acrylic paint on painted plywood, bone, motherboards
Part of Sonia Boyce: In the Castle of My Skin, 2020

What do you usually have or need in your studio or at work to inspire and motivate you?

I like stuff, and books, and images, and materials and all sorts of things, but I think it’s people more often than not that motivate me and inspire me. I’m really good at the ideas bit, often. Whether it’s generating ideas or just recognising and supporting others’ ideas. It’s the bit I crave, and get overexcited about, as much as the making and experiencing of the exhibition. I love to collaborate. So if I haven’t got anyone else there. I need to make something to bounce off, respond to. But looking around me, there are no constants. My work spaces tend to be a bit messy. I think they’re ordered messes. Things find their way to the surface when the moment is right.

I write lots of things down. Make notes of sounds, tunes, titles. If you want to make exhibitions it’s a good idea to have things ready for just such an occasion. Lists of artists I’d like to meet and work with. Lists of words and sentences if you need to make a song. Questions and structures that I might want to include in something one day. Stuff to do. It is sometimes just in my head also.

Gavin Wade, Songs of the Modern World, 2020, Album cover, designed by James Langdon, New Reality Records

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

Just talking. Bouncing ideas off people. Noticing things and asking questions. I like artist’s writings for that reason. Questioning themselves. Letting things flow out in different forms. I think the equivalent to processes and rituals is to come up with structures that will take time to unravel and work out what to do next. It’s what Eastside Projects is in some ways, or my Strategic Questions project of 40 questions as publications, or even Support Structure, my collaboration with Celine Condorelli. A big system into which I can operate, solve, propose, combine and learn as I go along. My ongoing A–Z Type Display Unit series (After Frederick Kiesler and Adolf Krishanitz) is another one I started in 2015 within Display Show. It gives me scope to include new ideas with existing ones, and to collaborate with other artists, living and dead.

My current collaborations with Paul Conneally are a different example. Mostly based around poetry forms of renga that we write on twitter as #twenga and #tantwenga we send each other a three or two line text and the other responds using the nonlinear system of shared writing based on Japanese renga. When we do the 100 verse Twengas they involve other people from one other to, I think, there was 18 people in the last one we wrote during lockdown, the 11th Twenga. But we just started a whole other project making music together. Paul started a record label called New Reality Records and was asking me to send him words, recordings, songs for him to produce. During lockdown I finally succumbed and it has been quite magical working with him. I always wanted to be a pop star of course, but along with my comic making career it never became my focus, but I’ve always written songs, had words ready for a song, found tunes. I started making a list of all the songs I could remember and had written down and so far I have about 30. Some had lyrics and melodies but not music. Some have music and sounds but not words, and some are quite complete. I’ve been recording them on my phone, sending them to Paul and he has been converting them into wonderful pop moments of sadness and electronics. We made a single and I’ve got an album completed and coming out for the start of October now. It’s called Songs of the Modern World: Volume 1. We’ve decided to make at least 3 volumes. I think we have more in us! I’d really like to make some songs with other people too, lots of great artists I’ve worked with recently who rap and make music, and would love to collaborate on other tracks. There’s an interesting freedom in making songs. It feels like making another artwork to me, but it is different too. In a good way.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

Oh, utopia, I suppose. How to get there, and rename it. What can you do in your life, given the opportunities that are available. How can you make life, shape something in the world, shape yourself. What happens when things collide? What’s at that point of intersection? What is our function? Was something that happened, meant to happen for a reason, and I just didn’t get it? I’ve made so many projects using questions. So the form of questions is a methodology to me. My Strategic Questions project has 40 questions of which I’ve answered/published 27 artworks with probably over 100 artists. Still 13 to go. There’s not meant to be a question that you could ask that isn’t contained within one of the 40! They were written by R. Buckminster Fuller back in the 1960s as the set of questions you need to answer if you want to solve all the worlds problems. Fuller was serious about it. He did think the world needed to change its geopolitical structure and think about how everyone could have equal access to the world’s resources. He tried really hard. He was an interesting man, and model for a type of artist in a way. He writes about being able to see the world with fresh eyes, from different perspectives and through others eyes. This was because he had the good fortune to not be diagnosed as being incredibly short sighted until he was older, and so the moment he was given glasses for the first time, he felt like he was completely seeing a new world. One he had never experienced. He was so conscious of that moment of discovery, that the world wasn’t a blur that he tried to approach everything else in his life with that same wonder of seeing something for the first time.

Inside Emma Talbot’s When Screens Break, 2020, Eastside Projects, Birmingham, Photo by Ashley Carr
L-R Zoe Sawyer, Amelia Hawk, Candice Nembhard, Yas Lime, Gavin Wade, Ruth Claxton

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

It’s all risks in life and the artworld in some ways. I know some things are not so much about survival and that I have always felt confident, secure and loved and that I could have a go at doing whatever I set out to achieve. But I never planned to run an art space. I had set my mind to being against the idea that an artist-curator should be hemmed in by running a building, or an organisation, or (the horror) an institution. So in some ways, opening up to the idea that I could create a new entity, an artwork, in collaboration with many others, is how I convinced myself to start up Eastside Projects. It took me a while to warm to the idea that it might be a type of institution. Another structure for achieving things and making things possible. It paid off completely. It has been an incredible 12 years of creativity and amazing people to work with. The structure of Eastside Projects allowed me to make jobs for other people, to bring art, money and ideas into Birmingham, to make connections and influence people and ways of doing things in this city, to be part of something much bigger than me. And it still does. It may not look like a very risky enterprise. But we have gone through a lot here, not least of all the right now. The pandemic has made many things impossible. We can still function, but not without extra support. We have to adapt. Quickly.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I really don’t know. It all gets merged into the ways forward. Bounce back. Try and survive. Try and do what you think best. Listen to those you trust. Listen to those you don’t! I actually feel like I’ve got to that age now where it gets harder to pin down moments, and risks. In fact, the thing I would say about ‘risk’ is that our society has become obsessed with it. Risk aversion. And that it is a problem. A way of controlling people and events, actions, dreams, freedom. It’s a big part of the professionalisation and regulation of our lives. And particularly of being an artist. I really prefer to make up my own rules. Which is why I have always loved manifestos, manuals, policies, artworks, but not to control other peoples’ lives, or manipulate other people. To create freedom. I acknowledge that one person’s freedom is another’s prison though. Nothing should be treated as neutral or natural or standard or normal when looking at rules, terms and conditions, codes of conduct. In many ways the biggest risk is when you don't write things with others!

Yelena Popova, The Collectors Case, 2015, Custom flight case, 7 aluminium frames,10 paintings, mixed medium on linen, each 75 x 55cm, from RCA Series 2011 and
Gavin Wade, Proposed Functional Configuration, 2015, 281.5x197.5cm,
1:1 cutting diagram (The size and position of Andrew Lacon’s A Display for Sculpture 07 is set by Gavin Wade as a proposal for the new size and position of the Gallery Entrance of Temple Bar Gallery + Studios), Display Show, 2015, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin

What is your favourite exhibition or event you have curated or participated in and why?

I genuinely don’t have a favourite. It’s one of the weird things about doing an interview where you have a list of questions, rather than are asked in person. You can make something up on the spot if need be, and it will be the favourite thing that popped into your head in that moment, but it’s so reliant on context. I have had so many powerful significant moments in my life where I have made exhibitions and events. I have had opportunities to work with some incredible artists, some outstanding people. It’s more about how things come together over time, which is something you realise the longer you stick at it. There is this seemingly impossible practice now, that I used to have, where you go round the world doing stuff and hanging out with other people who have decided to be artists and curators. It was amazing. But it doesn’t feel like it should happen again. It doesn’t feel relevant any more even. I left London a long time ago now, in 2004. And it has been the true privilege to be able to work in Birmingham so intensively for such a sustained period. And to not travel so much. To not go out into the world to find new experiences. To realise they are all here. I don’t know if I would say that if I hadn’t had that previous experience though. Probably not.

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

Something new about themselves and their relationship to the universe.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

(9 October 2020)


I’d love to leave it at that! You have to make choices. They always involve an element of compromise. You can be positive about it. You compromise something about yourself in a good way when you join with someone else. You gain so much more by not only going with your own impulses.

What advice would you give your past self?

Take better care of your lower back!

Can you recommend a book, film, or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

The comics of Alan Moore. From the age of about 13 up to his most recent Providence series about H.P. Lovecraft which I only read a couple of years ago, Moore’s comics have been a constant jolt to my system. The form, range and ambition of his works are astonishing. ‘Transformed your thinking’ is a big ask, and that is exactly what Alan Moore focuses on. How does art transform our reality? It’s at the heart of Moore’s project. Whenever I read another powerful comic, book, or film, it is partly through the filter of growing up reading Watchmen, Miracleman, Swamp Thing, the Ballad of Halo Jones or From Hell. It stays with you as you encounter other forms. I’d recommend Bucky Fuller’s Synergetics and Synergetics II also. Or most of Fuller’s writings as transformational, for me. Then I weigh them up with and combine them with ongoing recent transformational moments of learning from writings and lectures by Kehinde Andrews here in Birmingham. Kehinde has made me look at the world in a different way. To question an idea of white psychosis and to consider how the world needs to change. To shake off the systems of racism and control that surround us, and that we are part of. To have been able to attend some of his lectures at Birmingham City University and hear his Black Studies students speak about their positions and ideas in the world. To hear Kehinde talk about learning and understanding about black history through hip hop for example, it is so rich and honest and brave. Or have you read any of Adrian Piper’s writings? Everyone should read her words. I’ve been drawn to Piper’s works over the past few years, and she has given so much to art, and to the world. Try and get hold of a copy of Out of Order, Out of Sight, if you can. It includes writings on, alongside and beyond her artworks from the late 60s to the early 90s. Re-reading some of them again over the  past few months makes you realise again how much of a pioneer she is and how much the world still has to catch up with her. And the best sci-fi novels of course. I’m reading Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series at the moment. The smallest details of cultural practices and moments rendered into reality by her words is real creative power. Real knowledge. Real art.


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I met Gillian Jackson at Somerset House a few years ago, but knew of her work at Livity well in advance and have followed her career ever since. I was bowled over by her sunshine energy, enthusiasm, determination and truly impressed by the scale of ambition of her public projects, especially with young people.

She has an extraordinary skill at getting to the heart of the matter with individuals and collectives, creating exciting contemporary creative programmes, enabling skills development and establishing creative careers. She is brilliant at blending grassroots activism, analogue and digital processes and content to address the issues of our time, and generating public and private income to make it happen. Her knowledge and experience inspire me and continue to confirm the furlongs we still need to travel in arts organisations, to connect more deeply with our audiences, produce content with them that is more in tune with their daily lives.

Gillian works seamlessly with audiences, organisations, funders, and brands, to create a deeper engagement with the pressing issues of our time and encourage responsibility in us all. I am positive we will work together at some point, hopefully in the not too distant future.

Gillian Jackson is Director of Engagement at the House of St Barnabas, where she leads the brand, engagement, and cultural experience of its supporters. Previously, Gillian was Head of Engagement at social enterprise Livity, focused on aligning profit and purpose whilst building and strengthening relationships across Livity’s network. She has worked in music, culture programming and events for the last 15 years, leading long-term projects to develop new thinking via the cross-pollination of arts, culture, and technology. She is a Trustee of Culture24, a charity supporting arts and heritage organisations to connect meaningfully with audiences.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

The last few months have been incredibly hard, and I found the need to retreat and get off social media to stay positive. I have been reading a lot and have mixed my reading to find escape alongside educating myself further on some of big issues the world is facing right now.

I’ve just finished Educated by Tara Westover, which explores her spiritual and often physical upbringing alongside her drastic journey into education as someone who was entirely self-taught.

I’ve been enjoying Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe which explores his role in the defining struggles in Britain against institutional racism in the police, the courts and the media whilst providing a localised view of Black British History in London. As a Brixton girl, I grew up knowing about Howe as a friend of my dad’s, so his history feels incredibly poignant to me.

I also really enjoyed Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, by Chad Heap, which is a colourful account of a history that I didn’t know much about. It illustrates the racial history of gay rent parties in the prohibition era in Harlem, and how it helped to reshape the understanding of class and race amongst the cabaret community in New York.

Emerge Festival, London, 2019

How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?

I have reflected a lot on what is within my power to change and have been focusing a lot around two things - diversity in the arts more broadly, and around belonging and inclusion for all. The murder of George Floyd has created seismic waves in all aspects of my life, both personal and professional, and it has made me even more driven as an activist and creative to use my platform for good.

We are also in a digital renaissance and the World will never look the same again as a result. Lots of my practice lives in the physical world, although I have always been driven by how we bring the real world into the digital, so I am finding it a really challenging yet exciting time for change.

During lockdown I started at House of St Barnabas as Director of Engagement and have set out a strategy to reshape their approach to diversity across the board. I have also joined the Board of Trustees of Culture 24 and have also joined their board of diversity.

I also developed a programme of work for Livity called 'Livity In Future', where we got together 100 amazing young activists, creators, social entrepreneurs from all corners of the UK to come together and create change in response to Covid. We have developed an events and mentoring programme and will be working on a digital project together which is exciting.

Lovebox Festival, 2019, Photo @franxisaugusto

What will you do more of?

I will do more digitally, but also, I will consider my digital practice in a new way. Technology was built by a white man, and is one of the most non inclusive forms of creativity, and we all need to ensure we consider how we can use tech meaningfully to drive inclusivity and conversation.

As a Black woman, I have campaigned to open more doors for people of colour in the arts, but this is something I want to do more of and go further doing. I think there is a huge risk that we move to a place of racial capitalism following this movement, where organisations appear to reflect diversity without changing their practices or internal strategies.

What will you do less of?

I am doing so much more now that it is hard to consider what I will do less!

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

The biggest question I have been asking recently is one around race and what my role is as a Black woman in a senior position within the arts. I still cannot see the perfect arts organisation, or brand that I believe in and I think that most organisations have a long long way to go to change their internal structures and strategies.

Livity Open House Festival, 2020

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

My practice involves taking risks and trusting collaborators to realise projects, and often the biggest successes have come with the biggest unknowns. At the end of last year, I worked on a project with Culture 24 called Emerge Festival, which was a museum lates festival that took over several different museums and cultural spaces around London. We programmed a headline venue at Banqueting House in partnership with artist Flohio and had an incredible line up of artists including Gaika, Green Tea Peng, Elheist and Glor1a to name a few. We brought together over 80 young people to deliver the project and trusting the skills of everyone involved resulted in something special.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Sometimes the biggest successes come from the failures that you learn from. Working with young people for the last 7 years at Livity has helped me to grow in my own practice and understand my craft as a cultural programmer and the risks I have taken have taught me the most!

How would you like your work to lift others up?

I have built a creative practice based on providing a platform for others. At Livity, I am currently working on a project to help to connect 100 changemakers from around the UK to build projects, businesses and events that change the world. At House of St Barnabas, I have access to a space that will provide access to creatives and thought leaders to share their views. Every corner of my work is based on ensuring that I change systems and processes to make the world a more inclusive space for all.

Brixton Design Trail, Photo @marianap.res

Could you tell us about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Whenever I get stuck in my creative process, I go for a run, or I sleep on a problem with a notepad by my bed. I find that the best ideas I have come when I am dreaming or running!

What compromises have you made in your work?

If I had all the money in the world, I would set up my own cultural institution. This is a long-term goal of mine. Cultural Institutions do not reflect the culture of their times and do not create spaces for young people from diverse backgrounds to belong in. It is a compromise not being able to make this dream into a reality! This is a five-year goal of mine.

What advice would you give your past self?

Believe in yourself, do not be afraid to be creative and speak out about what you believe in.

London Design Festival, 2019, Photo @sleame69mage 

What career hacks or useful nuggets would you give to aspiring creatives?

Go out there and start creating. If you don’t know how then find an organisation that can help you start your dreams. Check out Livity, Create Jobs, Social Fixt, GUAP, Spiral Skills to name a few.

Can you recommend a book film or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende is a brilliant book about creating Good Trouble and looks at how 16th Century Pirates were the first social entrepreneurs that broke the system to create the change that they wanted to see. I could not recommend this book more.

Follow Gillian on Twitter @gilliantalking @HoStBarnabas @Culture24 @LivityUK and visit

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I have known Richard Parry and followed his career for over 15 years. We have connected in our different roles and organisations over this time due to a joint enthusiasm for a vast swathe of artists.

We share a love of performance, the absurd and working with interdisciplinary artists who collaborate and continually push the edges of their practice. Artists I have worked with that Richard has included in his curatorial projects have included Bedwyr Williams, Mai-Thu Perret and Paulina Olowska.

I have visited many of his exhibitions in different organisations and locations over the years and know that I will continue to be curious about his curatorial and directorial endeavours. I am a fan of the lush weird environments he supports artists conjuring.

His gentle demeanour belies a dogged determination to get the job done and he goes to extraordinary lengths to make strange things happen in unusual ways. He keeps taking himself out of his comfort zone to learn, to develop and create new opportunities for artists.

Richard Parry, Photograph Jonathan Lynch

Richard Parry is Director of Glasgow International, Scotland’s biennial festival of contemporary art. Prior to this he was Curator-Director of the Grundy Art Gallery Blackpool where he curated and organised upwards of 30 exhibitions, including solo exhibitions by Mark Leckey, Heather Phillipson, Matt Stokes and Jennet Thomas, as well as the group exhibitions Sensory Systems and Neon: The Charged Line.

Previously to joining the Grundy, Parry was Assistant Curator at the Hayward Gallery, where he organised exhibitions including Psycho Buildings, The New Décor, Walking in my Mind and the ambitious project Wide Open School, where the gallery was turned into a giant ‘school’ involving 100 artists from around the world. Prior to the Hayward he worked as Exhibitions and Collections Assistant at the Visual Arts Department of the British Council.

Parry is also a critic and writer and has written for art magazines including Frieze, Art Review and Modern Painters, amongst others.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I’ve been staying in a new flat since just before lockdown. It’s a tenement in Glasgow and at the start of this the garden was completely overgrown, with sprawling weeds and the like. An elderly neighbour moved in around the same time as me (with a cat called Prozac) and started to do a bit of clearing. It wasn’t long before I was joining in – such as social distancing would allow – and then another neighbour as well. It’s really encouraged a sense of community in the building. I’ve also been listening to podcasts including one that a couple of colleagues/friends (Jenn Ellis and Cliff Lauson) started called Between Two Curators. Mubi has been important. I miss the cinema and this has been something of a lifeline on that front. I’ve been a subscriber for years but it’s never been as important. For much of lockdown I have been tuning into a radio station called ‘Radio Caroline’ that the writer and critic Jonathan P. Watts ran daily during lockdown via the digital platform Twitch, broadcast from a front room in Norwich.

Mark Leckey, This Kolossal Kat, That Massive MOG, 2016, Installation view: Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

I hope that I bring an approachability to my curating. I think that the way I work tends to be quite collaborative and undertaken through partnership. I want to create a space in which an artist can develop new work and in that way is an empowering process, but also one in which the context and audience are there in the picture.  For me one of the wonderful things about working with artists is that you have an opportunity to really engage with different voices and approaches, and to be able to share this with others. When I was in Blackpool I thought a lot about the civic role of art galleries and art in general and I’m very tied to the – probably quite unfashionable – notion of undertaking a public service. I think that if anyone had any doubts about just what an essential public role art and art galleries, museums, festivals etc. play then the advent of Covid-19 and lockdown have really cast these aside.

At the Grundy I also became really aware of, and passionate about, a broader ecology – which might be quite a small ecology - and how artist-run spaces, perhaps especially in less ‘prominent’ towns and cities or can be doing things that are really vital. Being out of the spotlight, but in a supportive environment in that way can encourage genuine risks to be taken. I think back to the incredible programme that Supercollider was doing in Blackpool, with early solo shows for artists like Mathew Parkin (2012), Ima-Abasi Okon (2014), as well as exhibiting the likes of Jamie Crewe and Sean Edwards in group shows around that time. It’s clear the work that such a space can do – often largely unnoticed – in both seeking out and providing artists with shows at key points in their careers. A space like Supercollider would not have existed without the Grundy, as much as anything because the town’s gallery provided a job to the curator who ran it, Tom Ireland. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day, everything is connected, and that every show is important.

Bertrand Lavier, Telluride II, 2005, Neon: The Charged Line, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, 2016, Installation view, Courtesy the artist and Kewenig  

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

Fundamentally, my approach is multi-disciplinary. I did a Masters at the London Consortium, which no longer exists now but at the time was an incredible initiative involving a collaboration between the Tate, the Architectural Association, the ICA and Birkbeck College. The approach of this combined Masters and PhD programme was to bring together students from difference disciplines (I had studied history as an undergraduate) and explore topics from a myriad of different perspectives. If we look at the Glasgow International festival that was supposed to happen this year, and which is now postponed until next year, the theme for this was ‘attention’. I would say the genesis of how I would be working with a theme such as that – both open and complex but also offering a frame - started at the Consortium. Other important markers in the development of this theme were working with Brian Dillon, Lauren Wright and Roger Malbert on the exhibition ‘Curiosity’ for Hayward Touring at Turner Contemporary in 2013. Brian would often talk about attention. The point at which this theme crystallised was through a conversation with the writer and critic Orit Gat back in summer 2018, in which for me this sense that it could be a method, or approach, as much as a theme, became clear. Attention is in some respects a challenge – a daunting theme as a curator. I get the sense that many of us who practice art or curating are in some measure perfectionists, and so paying attention to things is at the heart of it, but inevitably there will always be blind spots. It is perhaps a paradox and double bind that runs through everything.

Tomás Saraceno, Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London, Installation view,Courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Something that I’ve been thinking about recently, which is very connected to attention, is the importance of looking – of going and seeing shows and then really looking at the work. Also of visiting and meeting artists, which I always feel I could do more of, but is vital. There are always exhibitions you will inevitably miss of course for a whole host of reasons, but I’ve become more and more aware recently about how shows I’ve seen – in some cases many years ago – have stayed with me on many occasions. Specific works that bury away in your memory or unconscious even and then it’s only later their importance becomes apparent.

So much does happen now online, in particular through Instagram so that is also another important way of finding out about exhibitions and seeing a representation of an artist’s work. The decision is not necessarily whether to work with an artist (although that’s clearly important) but can often be more about what feels like the right moment and context. Some of the artists I find most connection with and have known the longest I have not yet worked with in an exhibition, because the right opportunity hasn’t seemed to present itself or it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. At other times you discover an artist’s work and then an opportunity comes that feels absolutely right to work with them on something right away. That could be to do with, for instance, the exhibition space itself, it could be about how it resonates with key debates, concerns or questions at a certain moment, how the work exists in relation to other work or in relation to an entire programme, or where an exhibition is taking place geographically.

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I think this very much links with the previous question as I’m always trying to think about audiences when I am programming work. In Blackpool, we were committed to generating a programme which we hoped would resonate with the context of the town and that audiences would hopefully be able to connect with. In many respects the audience there was very a-typical to what you might imagine a contemporary art audience to be. Blackpool is one of, if not the most, deprived town in England and Wales and where the gallery is situation is right in the middle of the most deprived ward. Around a third of our audience lived within a mile radius and were unlikely to have, for instance, have had much in the way of formal art training and in many cases were probably living in fairly desperate circumstances. You were aware that for some people, the gallery was quite simply a helpful place to get warm, or somewhere you could go and chat with the person at the front desk, or somewhere that quite simply wasn’t home or school, both of which might be sites of pain or trauma. That social function is often completely unrecognised. One of the ways that we looked to find ‘ways in’ was to work with artists whose practice somehow resonated with popular culture – something that the town is famous for. So, in this respect, we might work with Simeon Barclay or Mark Leckey, but equally we might look at other elements of Blackpool’s past such as its history of staging party political conferences, in the case of Jennet Thomas.  The gallery office was right next to the welcome desk and so you basically got a sense of nearly everyone who came into the gallery and their responses to the shows. I remember an elderly couple watching the entirety of an hour long Mark Leckey performance lecture video – they were totally absorbed. It’s hard to predict or second-guess what’s going to connect, in many respects at the end of the day you simply have to go with what feels right, but it takes a lot of work, and a lot of listening, to get to that point.

Curating for a festival is totally different to curating for a venue and the audiences can be very different. You aren’t getting to know audiences  throughout the seasonal ebb and flow of the year, you are a moment of crescendo and congregation, of stimulus and a site of dialogue, exchanging of ideas and intermingling of circles and networks, as well as a site of showcase. It is far more focussed, far more visible and as a result there is also far more attention on all aspects – everything has to be on point.   So as a curator you are doing a lot of listening and looking, at once to artists, cultural commentators, critics and other curators.  In the case of GI, it is also very dispersed, with a huge number of voices, curators and artists involved, so it’s never just one person or set of eyes. The programme needs to speak to and nourish those who live and breathe contemporary art, but you also hope that what you’re doing resonates far wider than a smaller group of highly engaged specialists. My experience is that if the art really has something to say then audiences will pick up on that.

Ima-Abasi Okon, The Fountains Are Decorative and Are Not Water Play Areas, 2014, Installation view, Supercollider Contemporary Arts Project, Blackpool, UK
Courtesy the artist. Exhibition curated by Tom Ireland

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

As a curator you always hope that you are giving something more than simply an opportunity – although clearly that is central. I find it important to remember that you are in an amazing and fortunate position to be able to give someone a platform and that’s a very serious responsibility. I like to work with artists when I feel that the opportunity might enable a way for them to push their practice, or fulfil something that they might have not been able to realise yet. I hope that I can provide a chance to bounce off ideas and to assist in helping to shape the show if that’s wanted or necessary. It can really vary massively and this can be linked to the point at which an artist is at in their career, but it could also be about simply how they work. Some artists are really keen to have your input, and for others they have a very definite sense of what they want to do and the role becomes more facilitating. I guess it’s part of the role of curating to judge when and how suggestions at certain moments might open up new territory or assist the artist in enabling new ways of approaching a certain space or the narrative thread of a show. I think that what one can offer is also sometimes totally unrelated to an exhibition, for instance there might be people, texts or other materials that you can help with or suggest.

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

Fundamentally as a curator I would see myself as someone who connects artists with audiences and so it is my goal to facilitate this in such a way that it is enriching and resonant for both. The magical moments are when you feel that you have been involved in something that has really gone beyond the parameters of expectations, such as when we did the neon exhibition in Blackpool, which was the first time that contemporary art had garnered substantial national media attention in a positive way in the town, and not simply written off as some kind of opaque elitist joke, which is how a lot of people seemed to characterise it. I got the genuine sense that it was a turning point for how decision makers in the town (e.g. funders, politicians) and many members of public saw how contemporary art could be not just relevant but also something they could connect with and be proud of in relation to the place they lived.

Another way I always thought about this was that the power or importance of an exhibition would not necessarily be felt for years to come – the ultimate goal would have been for someone who was growing up in Blackpool to have come to gallery, without knowing what to expect, and for them to have connected in some way with the work on show and to have discovered something in them that they had not felt before. It would be quite an achievement if this experience would then have led them to have pursued art or some other creative path, which they might not previously have even imagined let alone felt was something for them, and that this experience had been something of a turning point in their life. I hope that this might have happened although I’ll probably never know.

On the flipside of this, sometimes the most rewarding projects are when you see the impact that it has had for an artist. Perhaps Tai Shani in the 2018 Glasgow International is a good, or at least well known, example here. This is a project that was originally set for Blackpool in a joint commission with the Tetley in Leeds, but taking this to Glasgow and having the opportunity to develop it in an incredible theatre space like Tramway, with the amazing technical team there alongside the team at GI, the performers etc., really gave it something beyond. Tai is an artist who has been making incredible work for years – perhaps a little more under the radar until that point – and this opportunity I think really showed to a much wider audience what she is capable of and it was very energising to see that.

Tai Shani, DC: Semiramis, Installation view, Tramway, Glasgow International 2018. © Keith Hunter. Courtesy the artist

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I would say that perhaps the most rewarding relationships with artists are those that last and where there is a genuine sense of exchange, dialogue and in many respects mutual learning – one where the conversation keeps going. It’s also very rewarding when an exhibition has a big impact for an artist, or has perhaps opened up some new questions or opportunities. Whilst Tai is one example, there are other less appreciated examples that were very rewarding for me. In Blackpool one of the final shows I worked on was with Rob Crosse, now living in Berlin. Whilst the centrepiece of the show was a film commission undertaken with Film and Video Umbrella, we also invited Rob to take on the entire galleries in a solo show. The galleries are specious - around the same size as the Hayward’s upstairs spaces when added together. This encouraged the artist to show photography work, create a towel sculpture/partition, and really take on the space as a whole. Although seen by far fewer people I would also regard that as enormously rewarding experience.

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I would say that risk is at the heart of producing both artwork and exhibitions. If you’re not taking a risk then honestly, what’s the point? I don’t want to go into an exhibition ‘knowing the answer’. In some respects there was a point at which I realised that a lot of what I was doing e.g. in Blackpool was an accumulation of trial and error. How else do you learn? You try something out, it might work, it might fail and in many respects the times when it fails are the times when you’re really learning. Sometimes this risk can be difficult for other reasons, as in the case of Jennet Thomas’s exhibition at the Grundy, which was effectively postponed (at the time it was described as censorship) due to complaints from politicians that its content was propaganda and not artwork. This took over a year of hard work, conversations and struggle to enable the show to proceed, helped by figures such as Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson (upon whose work the show was a point of inspiration) coming to the town in support of it. It also helped to have had an artist in Jennet who was so committed to the project and whom had the reserves of patience to work with us towards a new date.

Another example that I think is important here is the online programme in lieu of GI this year. This is something that came about after the big shock and disappointment of the festival not going ahead. Myself and the curatorial team (Poi Marr and Nora Almes) had absolutely no time to think about it and so it was very intuitive, although of course we had been thinking about and working on the programme for many months so it would be wrong to say it came out of nowhere. We were lucky to have a wonderful digital consultant (Leah Silverlock) who helped us to come up with the format of taking over the website homepage, amongst other things. The artists all responded in an extraordinary way and I still can’t quite believe what they were able to pull off at such short notice and with so much going on in everyone’s lives, it really was incredible.

Jennet Thomas,The Unspeakable Freedom Device, 2014, Installation view: Grundy Art Gallery, Courtesy the artist

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

Usually, I would have to say that the exhibition you are working on currently is always the favourite – or most important – at any given moment.  At the moment, with the postponement, it’s easy to feel in a kind of strange limbo. That said, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflection and looking back recently and there are certain shows that stand out for different reasons. These are not always shows I’ve curated – such as Psycho Buildings (2008) at the Hayward, curated by Ralph Rugoff. I came on board as Assistant Curator with only a few months to go and with HUGE amounts still to do. It was conceived in a pre-financial crash environment and feels like a kind of end-of-an-era show now, in terms of the budgets and the scale of the works. The ambition was phenomenal and it was exhilarating. Whilst working on large shows in the main Hayward Gallery I also curated smaller more under-the-radar shows around the Southbank, which allowed much more scope for personal development as a curator. Favourites here were Olivier Castel who has a truly expansive imagination and also Sara MacKillop in the Saison Poetry Library. In Blackpool I felt phenomenally invested in every show, but looking back now I have a particular fondness for the first one I did, simply called ‘Collections Show’ in which we invited members of the public to show their collections of things. It ended up being a kind of portrait of a collective unconscious of a place, in a fascinating and quite touching way. Heather Phillipson was another highlight – a show which came to us from Baltic and was technically very complex, including craning a car inside the building on its side. Some of Heather’s work is now in the Grundy Collection and what was amazing was coming back recently having artists living in the area talking to me about that show and how important it was for them.

Heather Phillipson, A Is to D What E Is to H, 2011–13, Installation view, yes, surprising is existence in the post-vegetal cosmorama -, 2013, Grundy Art Gallery, Courtesy the artist

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

For me, one of the things that art does, is that it has the power to show you something – communicated in a way that is beyond and outside of text – to show you something important that you didn’t realise that you needed to know. Or perhaps that you always knew but had never had brought to the surface. I hope I’ve been involved in exhibitions where this has happened.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

I would say 80%+ of what I spend my time doing is fundraising – it’s goes without saying that it’s in way the main part of what I do. I’ve never worked in a team where there is a development role so I’ve always needed to do all or a significant proportion of the fundraising or managing relationships with funders. This is a mixture of working with state funders such as local authorities, government departments, Arts Council England or Creative Scotland, or trusts and foundations, or sometimes with private donors. A new thing for me coming to Glasgow was the editions, which have the potentially to be hugely important for fundraising. We have been trying to find ways of bringing in income through taking part in art fairs – all of which feels like a distant memory right now!

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

I’m never very comfortable with this term emerging – like someone’s coming out of a flowerpot or something.  But thinking about early career artists I would say that Glasgow is an incredibly exciting place in this regard. This year’s programme would have seen (and will see next year) exhibitions that I was really looking forward to by the likes of Sekai Machache, Andrew Sim, Liv Fontaine, Andrew Black and Aman Sandhu to name a handful. Someone was describing to me that they felt the GI programme carried a sense of urgency and I think this is latent in these artists’ work, albeit in very different ways. I think that another artist at a very interesting point in their career is Urara Tsuchiya. Urara has been working away in Glasgow for years and is fairly established here but is only just now coming to the consciousness of a wider public outside of the city.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

I hope I have a few suggestions that I can offer but in all honesty it is usually artists who are telling me about amazing things they’ve come across. I like to be responsive to each artist that I’m working with - what can be enjoyable is when you establish a connection with an artist’s practice, and then can tune suggestions to that specifically. Going back to the first question I’ve personally been really enjoying the daily updates from the ICA as nourishment through lockdown.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Please be patient with us! Following on from the point about fundraising, the tricky thing is that there is often far less time than you would like for the actual job of curating, e.g. for researching and then working with an artist and giving them your attention. This is particularly so when (as in my past two roles) I have both curated exhibitions and been responsible for the organisation as a whole. This can lead to a relative paucity of both time and also mental space, as you’re juggling and working through so many decisions at any given time. It’s a tricky thing as institutions can seem big and grand, with snazzy graphics and the like, but the reality often is that it’s a handful of people there holding the whole thing together and juggling a million things, most of which are unseen. I think that it’s important that for both sides undertaking a show is a big deal – nothing is going to be entered into lightly without a lot of forethought. I would also say that it means a lot to a curator when the dialogue and exchange doesn’t finish when the exhibition does.

Follow Richard on Instagram and Twitter @rhmparry @Gifestival


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Interview: BETH BATE

I first knew of Beth Bate when she was Director of Great North Run Culture (2004-2015), running an annual series of contemporary arts projects, events and exhibitions, celebrating sport and art. Beth had a great reputation for commissioning and supporting brilliant artists, including Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, featured in my first blog post. I knew that she was responsible for creating a positive experience for artists, establishing collaborative partnerships, and raising money to enable them to make ambitious work for new contexts in the North.

I vividly recall meeting Beth in 2013, at Bedwyr Williams' exhibition The Starry Messenger, at the 55th Venice Biennale. I was representing Bedwyr at the time and was thrilled to have supported him and the Wales in Venice team in delivering such a fantastic exhibition. Beth brought a group with her to see the show and it was such a pleasure to be greeted by her with such warmth, enthusiasm for Bedwyr's work and recognition of the efforts that had gone into making the show and launch event. I have since learned that Beth is always a joy to both meet and work with.

She is passionate about helping artists realise their vision and is committed to the importance of art and creativity for all. She is kind and generous with all she meets, putting people at ease with a great sense of humour and can-do approach to getting things done.

I had the pleasure of working with Beth when I was at Simon Lee Gallery, supporting artist Clare Woods on her solo exhibition at DCA. I also loved visiting Beth's fantastic two-site exhibition with Mark Wallinger at DCA, Dundee and Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh. She is a tour-de-force and her responses below reflect that she is up for making change happen, fast.

Beth Bate, Photo Caroline-Briggs.

Beth is Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts, home to contemporary art galleries, a two-screen cinema, a print studio, learning and engagement programme, shop, and café bar. Beth was a member of the British Pavilion selection panel for the Venice Biennale, now postponed to 2022, and is a Trustee of Edinburgh Art Festival and a member of the Scotland Advisory Committee for the British Council. She was a Fellow of the Clore Leadership Programme in 2014-15.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

My concentration has been fairly shot over the last few months and the large novels in my reading pile remain unfinished. Instead I’ve found short stories and poems more accessible and rewarding. I’ve enjoyed Miranda July’s No one Belongs Here More Than You and Olivia Laing’s Art In An Emergency. DCA’s Head of Exhibitions Eoin Dara gave me a book of Leonora Carrington’s short stories for my birthday which lifted my mind into other imaginative spaces, and it was a joy to reread Edwin Morgan’s work in what would have been his centenary year.

Since lockdown, I realised how much of the film, TV, and music I usually consume is done whilst travelling. Being at home with my partner and children over these months means this changed. When Disney+ launched, we started to watch all The Simpsons from the start, which is the best family-unifying TV, and heavens knows we’ve all needed a good laugh now and then. DCA’s Head of Cinema Alice Black recommended Babylon Berlin to me which I’m a little obsessed with. It’s a fantastically well written, grimy detective thriller set in the Weimar Republic, with music by Bryan Ferry.

I have been shielding for quite a while now, so my connection with the outside world has been quite problematic. As soon as guidance allowed, I started cycling again. I was training for some events this summer which aren’t happening now but being able to get out and exhaust myself again has been hugely important. I’m currently back at my parents in the Black Mountains in Wales and rediscovering the landscape here, on two wheels, has been special. I’ll be taking part in the Rapha Women’s 100 in September – focusing on a challenge keeps me positive.

Beth Bate, Photo Alberto Bernasconi

How have recent world events affected your ideas, processes, habits, ambition, or methodologies?

My brain doesn’t really work in terms of formal methodologies, but ideas come thick and fast. I’ve been reflecting on resilience – on what it takes to make it through extremely difficult circumstances, how we remain strong whilst both accepting and showing vulnerability. I’ve also been considering care – how we act on what others need and, importantly, how we listen to our own needs. The only way to make it through these extraordinary circumstances has been to listen and communicate carefully and to be accepting of where people find themselves. I’ll hold onto these reflections long after we reach the next normal. I’ve thought a lot about why we need arts institutions and what we have lacked throughout lockdown. We have long been able to use technology to facilitate elements of cultural engagement and I have sometimes enjoyed being able to stay in touch with what’s happening in this way. But it is the proximity to art and other audiences that many of us have missed. I’ve particularly been thinking about how important it is that we ensure that this physical experience is accessible to as many people as possible, and how we continue to embrace digital solutions to ensure that those who can’t visit venues can still have meaningful engagement with art.

What will you do more of?

I will really, truly appreciate what it means to have a shared, collective experience with other people. I find the thought of sitting in a cinema, or being in a gallery, with others, albeit at a distance, is hugely moving. I will love the lines in faces, the folds in clothes, the tones in voices around me – all the things I have missed so much over this period.

What will you do less of?

I will be less likely to think that change isn’t possible – that significant shifts must take time. They can do of course but we’ve also seen over the last few months that huge, vital, cultural change can start very quickly, and that those of us who can be part of effecting change, who have power and privilege, have a responsibility to keep making that happen.

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your work? What do you care about?

I believe that art and culture can change people’s lives for the better – as artists and as audiences. I had first-hand experience of this as a teenager where cultural engagement, particularly through youth theatre and a couple of key gallery visits, totally changed my life and what I thought was possible. Everyone should have that opportunity. I care about working with committed people to make things happen, whether supporting artists to make projects, building relationships to keep growing and connecting, bringing work to audiences, amplifying voices that are often overlooked, fundraising to develop what we do, because I believe in it – it’s all part of it.

Lorna Macintyre, Pieces of You Are Here, 2018, DCA, Photo Ruth Clark

What would you like to be remembered for?

For getting things done, for having clear ideas, for listening to others, and for making a top notch negroni.

What do you think that art institutions should provide artists and the public?

Our responsibilities lie squarely with artists and the public: our role is to support artists to make their ideas manifest, and to provide safe, welcoming spaces, open to everyone to encounter art. Through this, people can engage with ideas, challenges, connections, new ways of thinking and being, reflections on how we move through the world, and perhaps also the pleasure of responding and making their own art. And yes, art institutions should provide… but we also need to listen and act on what we hear. These relationships with people are what keep us vibrant and relevant.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from visiting your organisation, or one of your exhibitions or events?

First and foremost, I would hope that they enjoyed their time, that they found it interesting. I would want them to feel looked after, and that they’d have encountered something that they might not have otherwise – a view, an idea, a glimpse of the world, whether it’s on a quick ten minute walk around the gallery on a lunch break, or a longer experience, an event or screening.

MARK WALLINGER MARK, 2017, Installation view, DCA, Photo Ruth Clark

What kind of change would you like to be responsible for now?

I want to work harder to address people’s access needs. There are some individuals and organisations who do this brilliantly. But for every one that does, there are so many more that don’t. We are now all adapting our buildings and programmes to make them safely accessible for as many people as possible, in a way that was hitherto unimaginable. If an institution now said, “Don’t visit us if you are in a vulnerable health group, we can’t afford to keep our building as clean as you need”, there would be understandable uproar. Yet the costs and effort involved in making some public places fully accessible have been used as reasons – as excuses – not to do so for years. Disability and access campaigners have long been making the case for change and, as a sector, we have, frankly, not been very good at listening. Now we all have shared access needs and we all want to know what organisations are doing to keep us safe when we visit: let’s take that listening and learning, and make sure we are welcoming to everyone.

Shonky: The Aesthetics of Awkwardness, 2018, Guest curated by John Walter, Installation view, DCA

What methods do you use to develop, test, or scope your ideas?

After reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet a few years ago, I realised I am a classic extrovert who needs time and solitude to recharge and recoup. My quiet time, alone, particularly when swimming or cycling, is when my thoughts settle and start to form into ideas and plans. It’s then important that I’m able to discuss these with people I trust and who understand how I work. Having a brilliant team at DCA is central to this, and there are others in my wider network who I can take ideas to for development and feedback – or immediate consignment to the bin.

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

It’s a combination of reading and online research, of visiting exhibitions, biennales and degree shows, of word of mouth… it’s rare that I would visit somewhere in any capacity and not seek out an exhibition or do a studio visit. And as for what finally makes me want to work with someone, there is no set formula. The quality of the work is foremost. But the relationship with an artist is key. Sometimes this will develop over months and years until we find the right project to make together. There are artists I wanted to work with when I first arrived at DCA in 2016 whose shows will be realised this year, and next. Other times it’s instantaneous and we can make something together very quickly, which is exciting. It comes down to the connection and relationship, to how the work will connect with our audiences, and to a balance within our overall programme.

Clare Woods, Victim of Geography, 2017, DCA, Photo by Erika Stevenson

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

This is incredibly hard to choose because I am immensely proud of the programme that we have delivered at DCA. Clare Wood’s solo show Victim of Geography in 2017 was very important to me – it was the first time DCA had presented a major painting show and a solo show by a woman for some time, and it saw the start of a significant balancing of the programme in a number of important ways. The publication we made with poetry by RW Paterson and a text by Anouchka Grose also marked a shift in how we work with writers and has developed into an important strand of commissioning experimental writing. Another important favourite was Alberta Whittle’s show How flexible can we make the mouth in 2019, for which Alberta was awarded a Turner Bursary by Tate just a few weeks ago. Alberta spent time in DCA Print Studio, developing work for the exhibition with our Head of Print Studio, Annis Fitzhugh, and talks wonderfully about how that specific, supportive environment played an important role in the development of her practice and the show. It’s a brilliant example of how we can support artists and the impact their work goes on to have.

Alberta Whitle, How Flexible Can We Make the Mouth, 2019, DCA, Photo Ruth Clark

Which organisations, institutions, or leaders (from arts or business) do you draw strength and inspiration from?

I draw strength and inspiration from all sorts of places and people. I was a Fellow of the Clore Leadership Programme and my cohort are a huge source of support – leaders in their fields, who know me far too well, who I can always turn to. My best friend Abigail Priddle, who I met on our first day at university, is a Commissioning Editor at the BBC, and is a rock and a sounding board. Within Scotland, Tessa Giblin from Talbot Rice Gallery, Sam Woods and Fiona Bradley from Fruitmarket Gallery, and Katrina Brown from The Common Guild, have all given me strength and inspiration- our various negroni and martini fuelled Zoom sessions have energised me and, importantly, made me smile. Mark Ball, Creative Director at Manchester International Festival, and Maria Balshaw, Director at Tate, are old friends and have been on the end of the phone to help with dilemmas, which I’m always grateful for. Artists Alberta Whittle and Clare Woods are huge sources of inspiration – their determination and resilience, their care and openness, and their intelligence and wit.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

First and foremost, I would hope that they enjoyed their time, that they found it interesting. I would want them to feel looked after, and that they’d have encountered something that they might not have otherwise – a view, an idea, a glimpse of the world, whether it’s on a quick ten minute walk around the gallery on a lunch break, or a longer experience, an event or screening.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Be clear about what you want; ask for advice and support when you need it; work with organisations that will support you and reflect your values, who are proud to work with you and champion your work.

Follow Beth on Instagram @bethbate @DCAdundee and on Twitter @beth_bate @DCAdundee and visit



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This month’s event will take place on Friday 31 July at 11am.

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I first met Alkistis Tsampouraki in 2015, when we both worked at Simon Lee Gallery in London.

We shared a passion for learning, of facing fears, of not taking ourselves too seriously and to having fun, whilst making weird(er) things happen in the world. Alkistis is kind, considerate, loyal, and often hilariously honest. She has a great eye and is committed to supporting artists reaching new audiences internationally.


Alkistis Tsampouraki (left) with Anouchka Grose at the opening reception of Enrique Martinez Celaya’s exhibition The Mariner’s Meadow at Blain | Southern, London, May 2019

Alkistis Tsampouraki was born in Athens, Greece and has lived in London for the past 7 years. She completed her MA in History of Art at University College London, specialising in Expressionism, New Objectivity and Dada in Weimar Germany. She is a Video Programme Consultant for OUTERNET London, an arts and culture venue which will be launched in September 2020. From 2018-2019 she was working as an Artist & Museum Liaison at Blain Southern Gallery London/Berlin/New York and from 2015-2018 she was an Artist Liaison at Simon Lee Gallery London/Hong Kong/New York supporting artists internationally in strategising and building their careers. She has worked closely with emerging and established artists, prioritising commissioning and exhibiting new work, including off-site projects and installations, touring exhibitions and publishing catalogues, and editions. From September 2020 she will be Associate Director of Exhibitions & Special Projects at the Breeder Gallery, Athens.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now, that is helping you to stay positive?

I am based in Athens, Greece and although the Covid crisis was more manageable here than in the UK we still had to spend more than two months in quarantine. I did a lot of reading during this time and the things I enjoyed the most was reading about Leonora Carrington’s life and more specifically The Seventh Horse which is a collection of her amazing short stories as well as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s account of Leonora's vital spiritual guidance for his life and work in The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky. I also watched the documentary series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth which are six one-hour conversations between Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers. I love Campbell’s work and it fascinates me how in both ancient and contemporary religions and mythologies we still seek answers to the same set of questions.

Toby Ziegler, The Genesis Speech, 2017, Installation view, Freud Museum, London. Courtesy of the artist and Freud Museum, Photo Peter Mallet

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to the gallery? What do you care about?

My role is usually to keep a balance between the artists’ and the gallery’s needs and maintain a trustworthy relationship. Because an artist-gallery relationship is somewhat like a marriage that requires commitment even when things might get dysfunctional, I think what artists appreciate even more than bringing results is honesty, consistency with what you promise and integrity. So these are the most important values I bring to my work.

What do you enjoy the most about working with commercial galleries?

I like being part of a diverse team with a combination of people who are coming from different backgrounds and channels and who when putting their efforts together can achieve a certain goal. A commercial gallery can often also offer the resources needed to materialize projects and ideas. Personally, I have worked on a couple of institutional and public projects that wouldn’t be realised without the support of a commercial gallery. Still, this sometimes might lead to other imbalances but that’s another discussion…

Clare Woods, Rehumanised, 2018, Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong, Courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery, Photo Kitmin Lee

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I think that there is no fixed recipe for success here. What makes me take real interest in someones’ work is that one of the ideas behind it is 'zeitgeisty' so to speak and that it somehow captures the present moment.

What kind of support or expertise do you offer or provide artists?

My role is to support an artist in building their career and profile not only through the gallery’s exhibitions and activities but internationally. So depending on each artist’s ambitions, I support them with day to day studio communication, production of artworks, catalogue production and distribution, research, development and implementation of public art projects, with establishing strategic partnerships with national and international institutions, with securing residency programmes, as well as with introducing curators, journalists and collectors to their work. Working closely with artists and having a more personal relationship also means that you often have to navigate through difficulties and challenges with them and offer emotional support.

Ali Banisadr, Foreign Lands, 2019, Installation view, Het Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, The Netherlands,  Courtesy of the artist and Het Noordbrabants Museum, Photo Joep Jacobs

What sales channels do you find work best for your artists?

A lot of galleries are focusing lately on digital platforms for reaching out to new audiences and widening their collectors base and it is true that some of these channels are successful. Especially now with the Covid situation these practices are becoming even more popular. Then art fairs are a major international hub for promoting someone’s work. But from my experience, the most successful route for nurturing lasting relationships with collectors is to cultivate their understanding and engagement with an artist’s practice by building his/her profile steadily and slowly through exhibitions, in conversation events, publications etc.

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

I feel lucky in that sense, because I had the opportunity to work with amazing artists that were also incredible humans. With some of them I developed a more personal bond where there was a lot of trust and respect. When you really know someone and know their work and you manage to deliver something important to them, it is much more rewarding than just doing your job well. It’s like helping a dear friend and I find this very fulfilling.

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

A few months ago I decided to leave a promising career in London and move back to Athens. It’s certainly difficult adapting to a new reality, but it’s important to do what feels right for you even when the world disagrees. I wouldn’t say however that this hasn’t gone well so far, but it was definitely a big risk for me and the outcome still remains to be seen.

What would you hope that people experience and learn from seeing one of your exhibitions or events?

The last months I have been developing and researching an exhibition concept. More than the curatorial idea, I am focused on how I want people to engage with what they see. I think that today we are more than ever detached from our intuition when perceiving things around us. When looking at a work of art, in many cases our first reaction is an attempt to analyze or de-contextualise what we see, stripping away its magical power. When this exhibition materialises, I really hope that it will give people permission to have a relationship with art that is of the spirit and not just of the mind, where feeling is privileged over knowing.

Do you have any advice for artists?

To stay real, focused and committed to their practice.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

The answer can vary depending on the stage of someone’ s career. For an artist that is at the beginning of his/her career path, I think it’s helpful to follow the work of writers, curators etc. whose activity is close to their own quest; to be part of group shows with other artists with whom they share the same curiosity; to have a good online presence and in general to be active and out there. Residencies are also always a great way of building a network and opening up to new markets and territories. Although it can be challenging, when someone puts effort and good energy out there, their work will be noticed and gallerists will come after the artist rather than the other way around.

Follow Alkistis @alkistis_tsab @the_breeder_gallery

Please share this interview



And do subscribe to our newsletter for a monthly round-up of some useful creative hacks, insights, opportunities, and introductions. At the end of each month we host a free special 30 minute online subscriber event on Zoom, providing subscribers with the opportunity to meet and ask Ceri Hand any questions about creative careers or questions you might have in relation to mentoring.

Feel free to email or contact us via socials @cerihand

Coming Next...

An interview with Christian Viveros-Fauné (Santiago, 1965), gallerist, art fair director, art critic and curator.


Interview: AARON CEZAR

I met Aaron Cezar in 2007 when we were both working at Metal with Jude Kelly.

As well as being in awe of his incredible creative career as a dancer, I was blown away by his input, support, patience, and incredible ability to stay calm during what some people might call creative chaos. He is the man you want by your side, period. As well as making space, time and amazing things happen for artists, whatever the context, he has a steely determination behind a relaxed, winning smile, securing results every time. He is kind, welcoming to all and always makes me laugh.

Aaron Cezar, Photo Tim Bowditch

Aaron is the founding Director of Delfina Foundation, where he develops, curates, and oversees its interrelated programme of residencies, exhibitions, and public platforms.

Aaron has also curated offsite exhibitions, performances, and programmes for example at Hayward Gallery Project Space, SongEun Artspace, ArtBo, and Art Dubai. As part of the official public programme of the 58th Venice Art Biennale, he conceived the opening week and final weekend performances with Ralph Rugoff.

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

It’s easy to become consumed by the news, social media, and one’s own personal outrage fuelled by the state of the world right now. I find solace in music and movement. I studied dance. Singing has always been part of my family. My mother had most of my siblings and me in the church choir. Mass started at 7am!

It’s been cathartic for me to get back in touch with my body and voice – and in fun ways, from taking online dance classes to learning choreography from 1990s music videos to singing karaoke.

In terms of music playlists, I have been listening to those coming out of recent music battles organised by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland via @verzuztv’s Instagram. My favs have been Babyface versus Teddy Riley; Erykah Badu versus Jill Scott; and Kirk Franklin versus Fred Hammond – this last one bringing me back to my gospel roots (though, we wished our choir sounded as good).

What are your core values and drivers that you bring to your curatorial work? What do you care about?

Much of my work hinges on storytelling often through or around social issues. One of the drivers of my work is creating new narratives or bringing to light old ones that have been forgotten or are worth being re-examined. All of this involves some level of performativity and performance has featured heavily in my curatorial projects. Performance is more than a medium, it is a process through which we navigate, interpret, accept, or resist the world around us. I think of performance in the widest sense, from daily routines to religious rituals to protest to live art itself.

If I had to name a few projects where these interests have come together, it would be Staging Histories which has so far produced two projects looking at the history of performance in relation to major events in the Arab region, one was presented at Delfina Foundation and the other at Hayward Gallery’s Project Space. I would also cite my most recent project at the 58th Venice Biennale – a performance art series as part of the official public programme that looked at identity politics through the concepts of nationality, gender, and intersectionality. The performances considered the architecture of representation and how language, as articulated through the body and the voice, can reaffirm, or refuse conventions.

Florence Peake and Eve Stainton, Apparition Apparition, 2019.  Performance, Meetings on Art, 58th Venice Biennale, 2019,
Credit Riccardo Banfi. Courtesy Delfina Foundation and Arts Council England

How do you develop your curatorial ideas? How do you test or scope your ideas?

Delfina Foundation is my largest and longest curatorial project. It is quite consuming, even after 13 years and with an amazing team. My ideas are sparked through conversations with colleagues, artists, and peers. Most of these ideas become embedded into the organisation’s work. The others I save for myself and independent projects, though these often overlap.

Through Delfina’s residencies, we experiment with different ideas. We have several curatorial themes that have defined our work over the last few years, such as The Politics of Food, which explores the production, consumption and distribution of food as well as food as a medium and metaphor to expose wider social and cultural concerns; Performance as Process which looks at performance as a way of processing the world around us; science_technology_society, which considers the intersection between art, science and technology and new solutions through interdisciplinary collaborations; Collecting as Practice which explores the politics, psychology and philosophy of collecting and the role of collectors and artists in relation collections and archives; and lastly, The Public Domain which interrogates the notion of public space, both in the physical and digital sense.

All these themes have been inspired by artistic practices that we have encountered and contemporary concerns that we share. Some have been initiated by me and others have been developed through teamwork.  All of them are collaborative in spirit, and we often work with external curators and specialists.

How do you discover artists and what makes you finally decide you want to work with an artist?

Pre-coronavirus, I had the privilege to travel extensively for research and to attend various biennales and fairs via my work at Delfina Foundation. I often discover artists this way and through a network of peers and other artists, particularly those who have had an association with Delfina Foundation. Our alumni network includes 350 artists and curators around the world.

Still, I get the most exposure to new and diverse artists via our open call for applications at Delfina Foundation.

It’s sometimes hard to put a finger on what makes me decide to work with an artist. For Delfina’s residency programme, its more clear-cut because we have criteria that underlines our selection process and we consider the opportunity that the residency will open up for the artist, personally and professionally. For independent projects, I also get excited when an exhibition or public programme becomes a career-defining opportunity for an artist. Beyond that, I must be drawn to an artist’s way of thinking and their approach in translating research into outcomes. I like to be included in and help shape this process, so I prefer artists who are open to this kind of engagement. Because I tend to have this close relationship to artists, personality matters a lot to me. I want to know who they are – its then easier to help them progress further as well as deal with challenges that might arise.

Power play, 2019, Exhibition installation view. Photo credit Tim Bowditch, Courtesy Delfina Foundation, Korean Cultural Centre UK, and SongEun ArtSpace

How do you gauge which artists and artworks will be interesting to audiences?

I am firm believer that there is an audience for any artist or artwork. I think my responsibility as a curator is to provide context for the work within a certain narrative or argument.

I always consider how the audience will experience the show. If relevant to the concept, I tend to include different types of media to alter the flow of the show, and I consider exhibition design has a central role in how audiences will perceive the show.

What do you offer or provide artists in the curatorial relationship?

As I mentioned before, I often prefer to work closely with artists and provide support and guidance where necessary. Sometimes this involves helping to sketch out the initial framework of an idea or facilitating access to material or archives. Later, my role might include providing references to move the idea along to the next stage or suggesting technical support around production and installation. Working closely with artists can also mean providing some level of emotional support – the process of making work does not always go smoothly. When the work is deeply personal to the artist, there is no separation between ‘work’ and ‘life’.

A Prologue to the Past and Present State of Things, 2015, Installation shot, Delfina Foundation, Credit: Tim Bowditch

Can you describe what you ideally want to achieve when curating an exhibition?

I am always hoping to do two simple things: (1) contribute to or provoke new discourse / cultural knowledge, and (2) provide a valuable opportunity for the artist(s).

Can you describe one of your most rewarding relationships with an artist - what factors made it enjoyable?

Ah – I get asked this question a lot about my favourite artist. I can’t choose!  But the factors that makes a rewarding relationship is having a clear line of communication, a sense of humour, flexibility, trust, and an ability to be objective.

What risks have you taken in curating that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

Let me start this answer by stating that this example is not of a risk that did not go well but one that I should have taken further! I curated a group show at SongEun Artspace in South Korea almost exactly two years ago entitled Power play, which took its cue from Derrida’s book Politics of Friendship. SongEun has been a partner on a majority of Delfina Foundation’s Korean artist residencies, so when they invited me to curate a show in their space, I naturally wanted to involve a number of these artists, alongside other alumni. In conversation with some of the artists, I realised that some had spent time at Delfina together and continued their friendship beyond the residencies. This sparked an idea to ask three pairs to collaborate and consider the relationship between their practices and the contexts in which they work. Each of these six also presented a solo work alongside four other solo presentations by non-collaborating artists.

For the collaborations, the international artists travelled to Korea for a short residency, hosted by the Korean artists in their homes, and then continued to work virtually, across many different times zones. Everyone reconvened to complete and install the works prior to the show. The process was loaded with risk, but I think it could have been pushed even further and expanded across the whole show with every work coming out of this process (rather than presenting solo works by non-collaborating artists). I have been thinking about reviving this format.

Power play, 2019, Exhibition installation view. Photo credit Tim Bowditch, Courtesy Delfina Foundation, Korean Cultural Centre UK, and SongEun ArtSpace

What is one of your personal favourite exhibitions or events you have curated and why?

I would single out the performance programme that I co-curated with Ralph Rugoff as part of the official public programme of the 58th Venice Biennale.

This was the first time that Biennale’s public programme incorporated performance art in such a major way, and it was ground-breaking to situate performance among the gardens and in-between spaces of the Arsenale and Giardini. There were many challenges but each reaped rewards.

Ralph gave me a lot of autonomy with the programme, and I was able to work with many artists whose work I had been following for some time like Paul Maheke, boychild, Bo Zheng and Solange. I was also able to draw on works from Delfina’s network of alumni such as Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Vivian Caccuri, Cooking Sections and Vivien Sansour, as well as our experienced team to help produce the works with the Biennale’s staff.

Do you help fundraise for the show you curate & if so how?

I think that one of the secret skills of a good curator is being resourceful and being well-networked enough to raise funds through co-commissions, tours, individuals, or public bodies. This need not be difficult work.

My ideas are always bigger than the allocated budgets, and so I take it upon myself to work with my team or external organisations to bring more resources to the table.  Power play would not have happened without SongEun’s budget and additional support of Mondriaan Fonds, Goethe Institut, and others. Venice Biennale would not have happened without core support from Arts Council England, alongside countless funders, and the artists’ galleries.

Aaron Cezar in Venice, 2019, Credit Leanne Elliott Young

What emerging artists are you excited by right now and why?

Again, I hate to pick favourites! But, without naming names, I am excited by artists who are collapsing boundaries between art and non-art disciplines, as well as the borders in-between the physical and digital world.

What helpful resources would you recommend to artists?

Residencies!  Transartist, ResArtis and Rivet are good places to start.

Do you have any advice for artists working with curators?

Firstly, l would advise that artists carefully consider how the curator is going to contextualise their work in the exhibition/programme.  Request some of the material the curators has been reading to conceptualise the show. If you feel uncomfortable, query their approach while being open to a new interpretation or way of presenting your work.

Be understanding of limitations (e. g. space, budget) and support the curator in their efforts to be resourceful and accommodate everyone. Sometimes in group exhibitions, compromises must be made. Make your own limits clear.

Also be open about your way of working and any potential issues. If you are rubbish at responding to emails or meeting timelines, let the curator know so that he/she/they can plan accordingly, like WhatApping instead of emailing or setting early deadlines. Ask the curator about their flaws too!

Politely voice concerns immediately. Do not let anything fester.

Follow Aaron Cezar on Instagram @theaaroncezar @delfinafdn and Twitter @aaroncezar @delfinafdn

Visit Delfina Foundation website 

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