Artist, curator and gallery director, Bruce Asbestos gives his top tips for curating
START BY HELPING
Work with projects and galleries where you are based as an intern or volunteer to get an understanding of how exhibitions function in a practical way. Ask questions, and try and get the measure of each space and project, also try and figure out what works and what you would do instead if it were your project.
START LOCAL BUT MAKE AN INTERNATIONAL NETWORK
Universities often want to keep students in the cities that they studied in. Especially where local arts provision is poor, universities are keen to support local activity by marketing your exhibition to their students. Some of the more switched on universities provide graduates with small pots of funding, these pots can often help leverage larger pots of money from places like the Arts Council England. Do your research and find which other people and galleries are doing things that interest you: Mexico Project Space in Leeds almost immediately made a network by inviting existing galleries and projects to use their space in the 'Mad Props' exhibition, which, in their words, aimed to "Contextualise our own activity" www.m-e-x-i-c-o.co.uk
DIFFERENTIATE YOUR OFFER
Sort your story for your project - who, what, when, why and how. Be clear about what it is doing differently locally, regionally and curatorially. (Perhaps leave the international element untill it is more established) Eastside Project's user manual is a great example of how a gallery (and curatorial approach) can differentiate itself from the rest of the market. It explains - at length - why they are different and what they want to achieve, they also compound this with some great design by James Landon www.eastsideprojects.org
GET YOUR ADVOCATES, ALLIES, AND PHOTOGRAPHERS
Talk to the the writer of your local press, and start to build a public story about your work. Often working with the local press forces you to sharpen up and clarify your position in relation to local audiences, local arts institutions and the reception of art more generally. Where possible get the best photographer you can to come in and document the project, great projects can be let down through poor documentation. Talk to the local council, galleries run as for 'not-for-profit' can often get a reduction on business rates (A form of council tax for commercial buildings), and councils often have additional spaces, industrial and shop units that can be used on a temporary let.
EXHIBITIONS ALWAYS TAKES MORE WORK, MONEY AND TIME THAN YOU THINK
I have lost count of exhibition openings that I have been to in which the artists are still hanging the work at five past the opening time, or one of the team needs to pop out for ice, or the mechanism on that Glycol Recirculation Pump isn't working. Even in very big and very well managed galleries this is a very familiar scene. The more work you can identify earlier on the easier it becomes. Automate mailing lists, template press releases and get associates to help out wherever possible. Also, if you are working in a team try and thrash out agreements at the start about who will manage what part of the project down to tiny details - even just simply listing your exhibition on websites, updating your own site, preparing email outs and social media can take days to complete.
It will take a long time for people to hear about your project. It will take even longer for people to visit and understand that what you do is good. Think of a great name, google it to check it doesn't exist and stick with it. Many a good project gets lost with a name change, as audiences haven't the time or attention to keep tabs on everything you do. It is also easier to tell your curatorial story in the future if your output is under a consistent brand, that has grown in ambition over a number of years.
LANGUAGE AND CONTENT
Try and provide a text that is reflective of your aims and of the work, often with a curator's first exhibition there is a tendency to lean towards dramatic and overly wordy text in the press releases. Start honestly and build your own voice, as audiences and arts professionals will see straight through the use of convoluted text.