The Adventures of a Community Curator


by Cynthia Rodriguez

" I agree that contemporary art may not be simple to understand, but if it is presented in the right way people can enjoy a lot. "
~David Elliott

Artists are a pain in the ass. I should know, I AM one (both). When you are a curator for distinguished places such as the Guggenheim or the Whitney, you get paid big bucks, have a big budget to work with, and all the prestige and respect in the world.

When you're a political, community curator like me, there's no pay involved, and you have a small budget to work with (usually your own). It's a thankless (until people praise you at the opening reception for a "great job"), stressful job.

The literal definition of curator is "someone who has care of or superintendence of something such as an exhibit". The actual definition is true. All of a sudden, you become guidance counselor, babysitter, and whip cracking task master, among other titles. Preparing for the art opening itself is nerve wrecking enough, much less being "master of ceremonies" throughout the evening.

Everybody's issues come out of the wood work when I work with them on a show. Suddenly, I get to know more about these artist's lives than I would really like to know. I mean, it's not that I don't care, but c'mon. Do I really need to constantly hear about your dysfunctional relationships, three part time jobs, your physical ailments, mental issues, substance abuse issues, your nomadic existence, your philosophy on life and your dying cat?

All the while, I'm just thinking, "Okay, so...are you working on your piece?"

Deadlines. In general, I don't believe that artists grasp the idea of deadlines. They seem almost phobic of the word. Submitting their information, dropping off and picking up artwork seem to be a foreign concept. Some actually get extreme anxiety from it all. I attempt to explain it's supposed to be fun, a creative outlet, sharing their talents with the world, and a way to express how the individual feels about a particular political subject.

I feel that working at an art gallery for seven years taught me everything I need to know to run a gallery and put some decent shows together. I believe that would be considered an "apprenticeship". Something that really doesn't exist anymore. I began as a volunteer, then a member, then a resident, then Assistant Director. People go to school and become art majors to learn the things I did. I feel very blessed and lucky to have had the hands-on education I did. I may not have an art degree, and I know I am considered to be one of the "self-taught" artists. I may not be Mary Boone, but I believe I can hold my own.

The few solo art shows I've done is when I concentrate on my light, fluffy, fun side. The "softer side of Sears" so to speak. They are very personal and allow me to share with the audience certain facets of me they probably wouldn't see otherwise.

When I do any genuine curating is when I do the group shows. When it's myself and certain other local artists in the neighborhood. When this happens, I ONLY stick to political themes, basically anything I feel that is relevant to the community, and the times.

Over the years I've curated art exhibits dealing with issues such as women's empowerment, domestic violence, the sensation of the media, the pro-choice movement, gay issues, and the homelessness and mortgage crisis. To me, an endeavour like a group art exhibit is not worth doing if it's not not dealing with an important topic.

It's better than just sitting around, bitching and moaning about certain issues, and putting it out there for the world to see, and help create an awareness about them, and hopefully contribute to changing the world in your own creative way.

" The educator and the public need to have an opportunity to discuss why certain art is important. "
~David Elliott

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