A few short weeks ago, if you asked me what a curator does, I would have tip toed around my answer and ended up with something like, “uh, well they arrange art in a meaningful way.” Which is definitely true… but there’s so much more behind that process than I ever imagined.
As my second semester of college rolled around this past January, I began to wonder what my summer would look like. At school, my interests had changed and deepened, and I had been pulled into a love for art history. In my search for summer plans I stumbled upon (and subsequently couldn’t shake) the idea of an internship at the Brooks Museum. Naturally, I was ecstatic to meet with chief curator, Marina Pacini, and find that she could use an intern around this summer. So here I am. And I love it. Growing up in and around Memphis, I had been to the museum on many occasions, but had never been aware of all the hustle and bustle just beyond those “staff only” doors.
My first project here was to help with some research for The Soul of a City exhibition currently on view. (By the way if you haven’t been to see it yet, what on earth are you waiting for?) I got to spend days reading and watching videos about the artists in the show and finding quotes by the artists to include on the labels. In the process, I learned so much about the deep and wide contribution of African American artists to the history of art as well as many interesting things about our city itself. Along the way, I watched the amazing exhibitions staff put everything together. Art had to be picked up from collectors and transported to the museum. Introductions to each section of the exhibit had to be written. The galleries had to be painted and later vacuumed, lights moved, signs and labels mounted. I’m sure I only saw a fraction of all the work that went into it. Everyone’s efforts culminated in the show’s opening, and it was a wonderful experience to watch the public soak in the exhibit.
There are so many people that make a museum work. Before my time here, I had thought, “What does a curator do?” was the only question. Every day that I come into work I learn about another part of the job, whether it’s requesting the loan of a work for an upcoming exhibition from another institution or organizing materials for publishing an exhibition catalog. What I love most is that every day that I come into work I’m learning (not to mention having fun). There’s so much to be done, and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to help.
So, now, if you happen to ask me what a curator does, I hope you have some time on your hands.