Curatorial Leadership in Collections: Widening Horizons by Moira Jeffrey

Learning and development - 20 June 2018

Our Curatorial Leadership in Collections project, which works with 8 partners, recently welcomed a new participant, Julie-Ann Delaney, Senior Curator at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. On our recent development visit to Greater Manchester, amongst our guests from museums services across the country, we were joined by Director of Collection and Research at the Scottish National Galleries, Christopher Breward.

Whilst in Manchester, we heard from both outgoing acting director of Manchester Museum, Nick Merriman, and the new director of Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth, Alistair Hudson. Visits included a panel discussion at Manchester Art Gallery, and a curatorial exchange at the Whitworth Art Gallery. The development days looked at the widest ecology of the city. From the Manchester Partnership, which has brought city and University collections together under joint leadership, to the dramatic improvement in equalities that the city has made in developing cultural services and nurturing audiences to better reflect its population. On a more salutary note, on an artist-led tour and studio visits at Paradise Works in Salford we heard about the very real struggles of artist-led spaces to remain within the city centre under relentless pressure from property developers and regeneration projects.

“In Manchester and Rochdale, we clearly saw how the partnership ecology seemed to work,” says CLiC partner Katie Bruce, of the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow. “The partnership between councillors and museums and arts organisations seemed very close.”

Whitworth Art Gallery (Image: David Oates)

At Touchstones in Rochdale, the group heard about the museum’s role within a town that has faced massive economic and social challenges in the last three decades. Curator Mark Doyle is working to learn more from the museum’s unique history in black, feminist art practice in the 1980s and has also worked with private collectors to tell the wider story of women’s art. “In Rochdale, particularly, the informality of the senior councillor we met showed a direct relationship with the curator at Touchstones that was very impressive,” says Katie. “There was a real sense of vision of the curators and it was inspiring to think about the ways I could think differently about my relationships with politicians.”

At the curatorial exchange at the Whitworth, we saw a line of development that led to a drive and confidence that curators could influence wider agendas. Curator Fareda Khan presented her Manchester Museum Exhibition ‘Memories of Partition’, as part of a wider cultural collaboration drawing on oral histories of the South Asian community in Manchester. Kate Jesson discussed her curatorial collaboration with the research project ‘Black Artists and Modernism’ on the exhibition Speech Acts. A collection of more than 70 works and archival documents ranging from the 18th to the 21st century, from a range of collections in the North West. It showed how collections contained the possibility to nurture new stories. “When Kate Jesson talked to us about her work on Speech Acts,” Katie recalls, “it was very powerful that she was looking at the work of artists of colour in real historical context, showing that they were at the centre of key questions and what was really happening in the British art world.”

A critical aspect of the CLiC programme is that our partner curators invite senior colleagues, to share their development days alongside funders and policy-makers. For example, Andrea Kusel, from Paisley Museum, invited her manager Susan Jeffrey. For Susan, “One of the great benefits of the project is widening horizons, hearing about the work of our colleagues in cultural provision in other cities.”

For Katie, the benefits are that this experience is shared with senior colleagues as well as peers. “I think having time to discuss what we’ve seen and heard, and how we relate that to our own contexts, the informality of real time discussions, was really important,” says Katie. “I usually meet with senior staff round a meeting table with an agenda. Understanding yourself and others in a human context, understanding what really drives someone, and having frank face to face conversations is invaluable.”

Curatorial Leadership in Collections is delivered by SCAN, with Kirstie Skinner Director of Outset Scotland as lead consultant, and Rachael Browning Head of Programme Development, Art Fund, as adviser.

Curatorial Leadership in Collections is made possible through the generous support of Creative Scotland, Art Fund, Outset Scotland and Museums Galleries Scotland.