Curator of the Month: Katie Bruce, GoMA, Glasgow

Producer curator at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Katie Bruce talks about collaborating with an exciting team and the benefits of being part of a curatorial network.

How did you start out as a curator?

I began as an art-worker with adults with learning disabilities, leading a team of artists and theatre practitioners to develop a peripatetic programme of activities, workshops and exhibitions across Edinburgh and Lothians.

I had graduated with an MA in Fine Art at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art (Tapestry Department) and followed this up with an MA in Gallery Studies at the University of Essex, so I knew I wanted to work in museums and galleries early on.

While at Essex I also volunteered at the Minories, Colchester with the education and exhibition installation team. So by the time I went for my first museum job I had a range of relevant experience inside and outside of the sector.

What was your first job in the museum world, and what did you learn from your role that helped you secure your next one?

My first paid museum job was at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Glasgow Museums, where I still am. I began in September 2002 to work on the social justice programmes (2003-2009) as the social inclusion co-ordinator, and this role changed to producer curator in 2012.

I went for the role because it combined my interest and artistic practice in contemporary art and working with people in the context of museums and galleries. I was incredibly privileged to have begun working in Glasgow Museums when Mark O’Neill was head of museums and alongside a generous team, including curators Ben Harman and Sean McGlashan, that pushed boundaries through our programming and what we could achieve on limited resources.

I have yet to see another post where I would get access to such an incredible collection and experienced colleagues, or be able to work with artists in the ways that have been made possible at Glasgow Museums.

What do you think are the most important skills a curator needs to have?

I watched a conversation from BOMB Live between Sharon Hayes and Lawrence Weiner in 2013 on art and architecture in public spaces while researching the exhibition Ripples on the Pond (2015-16), and keep coming back to this quote by Hayes:

I am often working in the space of its conveyance ... the space of working is the space of doing is the space of learning

‘Working in the space of doing’ in the approach I take to exhibition-making. For me the most important skills are to be flexible and able to balance passion, care, curiosity, risk-taking, listening and communication skills with an openness to thinking about working with artists and how that responds to your institution.

I feel there are very practical skills required about delivering a project on time and in budget which need to be balanced with pushing the research and work that you do.

Can you tell us about a highlight in your career?

A recent highlight would be working on the project queer timɘs school prints with artist and curator Jason E Bowman.

This was a project, exhibition and acquisition which I have been working on for the last two and a half years. I haven’t worked on anything quite so intense or thought-provoking before that questioned my practice and the institution in ways that were subtle, sometimes difficult but also necessary.

Jason was generous with his time, provocations and energy, responding to a commission from me that resulted in a complex, socially engaged project with citizens that questioned both the recognition of LGBTPQI+A visibility in education and our collection, but also institutional practice and approaches to commissioning and acquisitions.

It opened in December and is still on at GoMA, so it’s very fresh and I am still learning through the conversations that this has opened up with colleagues, artists and visitors to the museum.

Have there been any particularly challenging moments as a curator, and what are the challenges that a museum curator faces more generally?

The biggest challenge is balancing time to do everything with the care and attention to detail required for the projects I work on. The resources, both financial and staffing, are considerably fewer than they were five years ago, yet our audience numbers have increased. The expectation of artists, partners and audiences about what we can achieve is a challenge when you are in a busy city centre gallery.

Curating is not just about caring for objects – there are also all the relationships, conversations and encounters crucial to realising projects. Getting a team to be as passionate about an exhibition with a new commission can be challenging when it is at the abstract development stage and not straightforward. But I feel that, when that collegiate approach occurs, what seems impossible at the outset becomes possible through the energy, passion and skills of the people I work with at Glasgow Museums.

Bringing the artist into those conversations early, where the team understand where they are coming from, engages everyone in the work and creates a greater understanding about what you hope to achieve through a show.

What have been the benefits of being part of a curatorial network?

Curatorial networks have been crucial at various stages in my career. Whether that has been through Engage Scotland or the Contemporary Art Society, I find that meeting other curators and educators is always inspiring and it can be an incredible space outside of daily work commitments.

The most recent experience has been with the Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN) and Outset Scotland through the pilot network Curatorial Leadership in Collections (CLiC), which is supported by Art Fund. This curatorial network came at a time when GoMA was reflecting on its direction and became this opportunity for me to learn from other institutions, think about new approaches to collecting and what leadership might look like.

The pilot finished last year and I am excited about the direction that CLiC might take going forward. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from peers who I admire hugely, and to think about taking new routes or ways of collaborating to acquire works for the collection.

This directly led to an affiliation with Mother Tongue and their recent successful application for an Art Fund New Collecting Award, which we are realising with them over the next two years and which will result in some stunning new work for Glasgow Museums’ collection and programmes.

Katie Bruce is a member of CLiC (Curatorial Leadership in Collections), a project developed by the Scottish Contemporary Art Network and Outset Scotland which supports and develops curatorial ambition within Scotland’s collecting institutions.

Art Fund's new curatorial network grants provide funding to support Subject Specialist Networks (SSNs) and other curatorial networks to develop and share knowledge, skills and resources.

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