Curating as practice and profession: an exploration and definition of a contemporary independent curator.
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(Research Aim) This research sets out to explore and define a Contemporary Independent Curator and his/her practice. This type and method of curating activity occurs in a cultural context by an individual who practices (mostly) outwith a cultural institution. Independent curators can be described in essence as ‘wild spirits’ (Schumpeter 1952 p. 340) and this research considers the cultural and creative values and opportunities that such a practitioner can bring to artists, communities, industry and audience experiences through their creative ideas, projects and activities. The acknowledged changes in contemporary art practice, the broader sites for exhibiting artworks, the changing nature of collaboration between artists and curators and the development of the broader creative and professional practice of the curator has triggered this important research. (Research Objectives) My objectives in this research are to make explicit the implicit tacit knowledge involved in the practice of curating, to distinguish between forms of curating that are institutionally bounded and new forms that seek to work between institutions, to characterise the practice of the ‘independent curator’ drawing on historical as well as current experiences of this form of practice. (Research Methods) Originating from an enquiry of my own curatorial practice, this research journeys through essays on the mapping of the recent histories of the independent curator (Szeemann, Obrist, Higgs – these curators have been identified as pioneers of contemporary curating and have had creative and experimental practices both in and outwith the institution), it explores the metaphor of the practice of the independent curator as a cultural midwife/cultural intermediary, in an attempt to capture the essence of curating. It analyses findings from a survey of current independent curators based in Scotland conducted as part of the research. (Research Methods) Although this practice is identified as an individual and independent one, it is not practiced in isolation from others; therefore the social and field theories (thinking tools) of Pierre Bourdieu are adopted as the key theoretical underpinning for the research. Bourdieu is selected from other key theorists (eg. Adorno) because he traces the influence of a person’s power and capital through their social, cultural and professional context. Other aspects of Bourdieu’s work, importantly his concern with class and education in the appreciation of the arts, are not judged to be relevant to this research. Bourdieu‘s framing of the individual’s emergence through key influences (social, cultural, professional) underpin the analysis of the case studies of the historical models of the independent curator and to the empirical research conducted with active independent curators in Scotland to identify whether these theories are still valid to the (local) currency of the practice, or that the practice has evolved to adopt a new and enhanced approach in what it is and what it does. This research will benefit and enable potential curators to identify the specific dispositions of the practice and profession of an independent curator. It will benefit the cultural and creative industries by acknowledging and supporting the significant creative, cultural and economic value of the independent curator. It will also benefit audiences of art in making explicit the experience, integrity and consideration undertaken by this approach to curating. This research will also be of interest to educators and students of art and culture enabling them to learn from the critical and creative decisions involved. The research is situated within a wider academic and professional discourse on the role, function and value of creative practices, including contemporary curating within business, economy and society.