Monday, 23 November 2015




The contemporary museum or gallery understand that their curatorial practices are altered by the spaces in which occur. So, what do curators do? As fundamental changes to contemporary curation are required in a wide range of institutions, the Museum Studies Colloquia Series at the Faculty of Information led a panel with John Summers (Curator at Halton Region’s Museum), Alysa Procida (Director of the Inuit Art Foundation), and Lauren Williams (Collections Manager at the Museum of Inuit Art) to discuss their respective curatorial practices. 

Panelists ready for student and guest Q&A. Photo Source: Maya Donkers.

About the Speakers

Photo Source: John Summers
Since graduating from the Master of Museum Studies program in the mid-1980s, John Summers has worked as a curator, educator, exhibit designer and administrator for museums and cultural institutions in Canada and the United States. He is currently Manager of Heritage Services and Curator for the Regional Municipality of Halton and Course Director for Exhibit Planning & Design in the Ontario Museum Association’s Certificate in Museum Studies program. 

Photo Source: Lauren Williams
Alysa Procida is currently the Director of the Inuit Art Foundation (IAF). Prior to her position at the IAF, she served as Executive Director and Curator of the Museum of Inuit Art. She studied English Literature and Art History at the University of Vermont, University of London and University of Toronto.

Photo Source: Lauren Williams
Lauren Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts with Combined Honours in English and Contemporary Studies from University of King’s College and a Master of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. She is currently working as the Collections Manager at the Museum of Inuit Art. She likes to think outside of the archival box when it comes to engaging the public with museum collections.

What did the speakers present?

Programmatically, curators are engaged in a somewhat uneasy dialogue with interpretive planners, who are assuming an ever-larger role in exhibit development. Revenue pressures lead some curators to spend more time courting and curating donors and special events than artifacts. In collections storage, there’s just too much stuff to even inventory, let alone catalogue properly. Is it time to articulate a new model of curatorial practice that embraces and works with these challenges and turns them into opportunities? This presentation explored this issue in the context of the ongoing project to implement a new Master Plan for the Halton Region Museum.
- John Summers, Halton Region Museum

In 2013 the Museum of Inuit Art completed a re-curation of the permanent display. This presentation explored how the introduction of the “Follow Your Art” program and Regional Diversity Gallery have engaged visitors with contemporary art and confronted assumptions of What is Inuit Art?
- Alysa Procida and Lauren Williams, MIA

What does it mean for curation? 

The Museum of Inuit Art (MIA) opened to the public in 2007. The curatorial approach until 2013 was problematic as it provided a limited scope of interpretation, limited representation of artistic media, limited reflection of reality of Inuit life and art production, elided differences within Inuit culture, and encouraged a passive visitor experience. 

In response to these limitations, a new curatorial approach was developed with the aim of increasing visitor knowledge of collections to emphasize art by Inuit and to emphasize artistic merits of the collections to demonstrate that art by Inuit is in fact, art, and not artefacts. 

What is Inuit Art? Photo Source: Lauren Williams.
The "Follow your Art" program was developed to break down the monolith of Inuit art form, to focus on individualization and encourage the creation of personal relationships. Employing colour-coding techniques and Western art historical reference points worked a means of encouraging close-viewing and critical thinking while developing art literacy skills in visitors. 

It was a success! Visitor responses in 2014 demonstrated that 86% of visitors felt their understanding of Inuit art grew. 

In 2014, the Halton Region Museum faced curatorial limitations as a result of a poor framework for collections management in previous years of operation. Housing more than 250,000 artifacts, some of the artifacts had no records, some records had no artifacts, and some had both artifact and record present. The first order of business was to gain physical and intellectual control of the collections as Summer describes, "to be the custodians of regional artifacts". 

Current Halton Region Museum. Photo Source.

In response to these limitations, a 5-step plan is currently in motion to build a strong curatorial practice:

1. Re-think
2. Face out
3. Engage
4. Listen
5. Speak 

The ultimate goal of this plan is to be able to curate exhibitions that straddle both the past and the present, talk to non-specialist audiences, and to provide authenticity and control against the tools of today. What this means for curatorial practice is that there has to be a willingness to try anything, a recourse of philosophy, and a debate over fundamentals. 

So what was the recurring theme and/or similarity within the two models of contemporary curatorial practice? Exhibits should be connected to peoples lives. 

What do you think?

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