The full texts of the curators' answers to our questionnaire are presented here.
Define the general job of curator
Margaret Miller of USF: The title of curator is broadly used in the museum field. Traditionally it was defined as a keeper or caretaker of collections or cultural material. At the USF Contemporary Art Museum we have used the title for a variety of jobs: curator of collections, curator of education, curator of exhibitions, curator of Latin American and Caribbean art and curator of public art and social practice.
I currently serve as the director and chief curator of the USF Contemporary Art Museum. As you know, I currently direct the Contemporary Art Museum, Graphicstudio and the Public Art Program. These programs function synergistically under the umbrella of the Institute for Research in Art in the College of the Arts. In the broadest sense I curate by providing oversight to the temporary exhibition program, and I curate the artist residencies at Graphicstudio.
From my perspective, the curatorial process that is most critical for museums is the practice of exhibition making. My core value and focus as director of the Contemporary Art Museum at USF continues to be to present a program of temporary exhibitions and related educational programs that introduce our students and broader community to advanced international contemporary art. The exhibitions and related programs are diverse in mediums, themes and represent a broad range of art practices.
Curating is an intellectual/scholarly process that requires a deep understanding of contemporary art (or other subject areas) within the complex social and cultural situations that exist today as well as a thorough understanding of art history. The curator of exhibitions must also write interpretive and critical essays that stimulate the viewer and enrich the experience of viewing the exhibition.
Job requirements for curators today may also include grant writing, fundraising, donor relations, teaching, organization of symposia, lecture series and other educational programs. I expect our curators to participate actively in the museum field and contribute to it through publications, lectures and presentations at conferences. Today museums must continually evaluate their role. For the USF Contemporary Art Museum we want to build our audiences to include students studying in all fields and reach the broader Tampa Bay communities with thoughtful and engaging projects. Our curators must continually innovate and evaluate various strategies to engage audiences. Recently the use of social media has become one important avenue for engaging audiences prior to their visit, during their visit and after.
International curatorial practice is diverse, and there are many models for the presentation of contemporary art. Today there are several strong graduate programs, including the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, and many universities now offer certificates or MA programs in museum studies.
Joan Kropf of the Dalí: A curator, from the Latin curare meaning "take care," oversees the care and interpretation of a museum's collection, in my case — a collection of — 2,000 works by Salvador Dalí.
Peter Foe, USF: While the term curator has come to be associated with any number of activities, I personally prefer to think of the word as being synonymous with caretaker, as in someone who manages both the physical care and intellectual use of a select group of things.
Megan Voeller, USF: I think of a curator as someone who facilitates communication and relationships between artists and audiences. One of the main ways curators do this is by organizing exhibitions for museum and gallery spaces, but of course they can also bring into existence programs, experiences and other encounters with art that are less tied to the white cube. A lot of what traditionally falls under the curatorial job description — the caretaking of art, the interpretation of art, working directly with artists as well as museum visitors — I would frame as the pursuit of a mission to facilitate connections between artists and audiences.
Noel Smith, USF: A curator looks, studies, proposes, selects, arranges and explains.
Katherine Pill, MFA: At the most basic level, a curator cares for artworks. We are the stewards of art objects and responsible for both their preservation and presentation, which includes providing context for their display. The curator, especially of contemporary art, plays an important, but ultimately supportive, role to both artist and audience. I see the curator as a conduit.
Seth Pevnick, TMA: A curator's primary job is to care for a collection, whether of art or anything else. This means different things in different contexts, but at an art museum like this one my job is first to be sure the collection is safe, both on display and in storage. After that comes the more visible part of my role, which is to research and interpret the collection. This leads to exhibitions, where I work with other members of the team to create a gallery layout that helps people to appreciate the artwork on view — its aesthetic merits as well as its cultural and historical significance. I also spend time working on publications, lectures, and other public programs, which can relate to the artwork on view, in our permanent collection and in other collections around the world.
Sarah Howard, USF: A curator researches and presents art within a specific time and space. This process provides context and perspective and, when done well, it creates a dialogue between the viewer and the work. Curators make connections between artworks in order to communicate ideas about art. A curator also guides the management and protection of a collection.
Lynn Whitelaw, LRMA: Art curators organize, curate and oversee the exhibitions and installations within their museums. They are responsible for the growth and development of their institution's permanent collection(s). They should cultivate research and interpretation of the collection, maintain a Collections Plan to serve a variety of purposes from donor cultivation to collection's evaluation, vision for a collection's growth, conservation care and assessment, and they probably serve as the senior administrative person within the curatorial department of their institution.
How and why did you become a curator?
Miller: I started curating in the early 70's without really any formal training. I decided that this was the most interesting way for me to contribute, as I was not interested in publishing as an art historian and I was not an artist.
My first curatorial project was with USF professor Bradley Nickels. I assisted him in curating an exhibition titled "City and the Machine" in 1974 for the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. This was followed by my first solo curatorial project in 1976, a painting exhibition titled "The Figure as Form." Over the years, I have collaborated with other curators and curated many exhibitions. Most recently I co-curated an exhibition with Megan Voeller — four women painters, and the title of the exhibition was "Making Sense." It was designed to allow viewers to access various approaches to painting today.
Kropf: I started as a fine artist, producing my own work and taking courses in drawing and painting. My interest in art led me to seeking an M. A. in humanities, art history and museum studies.
Foe: To a large extent, I put myself through school working in a gallery environment — helping to install exhibitions and manage the care of the objects associated with those exhibitions.
After graduation I started my own business documenting art and providing collection care to private collectors. When the position at USFCAM became available, it seemed like a great opportunity to work with a vital, young collection and yet it felt like work I had always done, so I tossed my hat into the ring.
Voeller: I was very interested in becoming a curator or an art critic as an undergrad, but I had no idea how to go about it. In 2004, I moved back to Tampa Bay from New York to be closer to my family. A while later, I met with Paul Wilborn, and when I told him about my background in the arts and interest in writing, he suggested pitching a story to David Warner, who was the then-new editor of Creative Loafing. We did some stories together, and eventually I was on the masthead as CL's art critic. I see my interest in curating as rooted in my experience as a critic. I started as an education curator, concerned with facilitating visitor experiences of art, much as a critic does; then I became interested in being involved in the process from an earlier point and conceiving exhibitions.
Smith: Fresh from earning an art history master's degree at USF, I was hired at Graphicstudio largely because I speak Spanish, and I started working to bring Latin American artists to the studio and doing related educational programming. When Graphicstudio and the Contemporary Art Museum merged, director Margaret Miller offered me the opportunity to curate an exhibition. Curating was nothing I set out to do, but it has become a logical extension of my interests — especially in Cuban and Latin American art — and something I could contribute to our programming. It's a very satisfying experience to curate an exhibition, and each one is different and brings with it its own, sometimes terrifying, learning curve. I love the collaboration with every member of the museum team, from start to finish, and it's fun to share art I respect, and my discoveries and ideas, with an audience.
In my first years at Graphicstudio, I was able to travel to Cuba and immediately fell in love with the island, the people and their art. Cuban art has become my specialty, and at this particular moment in history, when our country and Cuba are finally officially speaking, I am very excited and moved to be a small part of the long process of reconciliation. In my work at CAM, I've seen that art's humanity can bridge the divides of language and politics.
Pill: I became interested in the theory and potential function of art while in high school, obsessed with Bertolt Brecht. I planned on becoming a writer of some kind, but in undergrad I started to take some art history classes and quickly realized that I wanted to continue that line of study. It probably wasn't until seeing an installation at MoMA, however, curated by the architects Heurzog + de Meroun, that I really considered the role of the curator. Never before had I seen artworks so dramatically changed because of their layout and context. It made me appreciate the placement of artworks in a way I hadn't considered before.
I went to graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with the aim of becoming a curator, completing a dual MA in art history and arts administration. I was drawn to the program for its combination of theory and administration, and living in Chicago was an invaluable experience. The city's long history of apartment galleries and artist-run spaces is incredibly powerful.
Pevnick: I have always been interested in art, since I was a small child. Growing up, I made a lot of my own artwork, but decided when I went to college that I was not going to pursue a career as an artist. Instead my focus moved more toward classical archaeology, first with the Romans, whom I had previously studied in junior high and high school Latin classes, and eventually with the ancient Greeks. In college, I had an internship at the art museum, both leading tours and studying the collection of ancient Roman coins. I also studied in Italy, visiting lots of museums and archaeological sites, and after graduation was able to travel more and participate on archaeological excavations in Greece. During a two-year stint teaching elementary school, I realized I was trying to find ways to tie the curriculum into ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and that I'd be better off pursuing a career where I could do that all the time. So I went back to school, choosing UCLA in part because of the potential opportunities with the Getty Museum nearby. I also spent more time in Greece and Albania studying and working on excavations, and have always loved working with objects. From that standpoint, a museum career was very attractive, and luckily for me, things worked out. After a volunteer project with the education department at the Getty Villa, I was hired in the antiquities department, where I worked on an exciting exhibition project at the same time that I was writing my dissertation. When the Tampa position opened up, I was strongly encouraged to apply, and I was thrilled to be offered the job. Now, almost six years later, I've learned so much about how a smaller museum runs and have had tremendous opportunities to learn about many kinds of artwork far removed from ancient Greece and Italy!
Howard: I had been working as a production associate at Graphicstudio for over a decade when the curator of public art position at the Institute for Research in Art at the University of South Florida became available. It was a great opportunity to merge my interest in community engagement and art in the public realm with my collaborative studio experience, and it allowed me to work with both the production and presentation aspects of the Institute. Since accepting this position, the institute has expanded our public art program to formally include socially engaged initiatives within our curatorial and community programs. I love being a curator because of the new challenges presented with each unique project and the opportunity for professional and creative growth these experiences provide. I enjoy working collaboratively with artists and the amazing people at the university and in the community.
Whitelaw: Why did I become a curator — because I love to arrange things, love spatial puzzles, am devoted to studying art history, doing research and sharing my passion with anyone willing to experience what I put together — it's very selfish.
Please talk about an especially memorable experience as a curator (good or bad).
Miller: There are many. One of the most memorable projects was one I co-curated with Jade Dellinger, then an independent curator and now director of the Rauschenberg Gallery at Florida Southwest University in Fort Myers. The project started as a public art commission for MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa). Allan McCollum was commissioned to create an installation of fulgurites created through triggered lightning strikes. The project ended up as an installation of the process at MOSI and an exhibition/installation titled "The Event: Petrified Lightning from Central Florida (with Supplemental Didactics)" at the USF Contemporary Art Museum. McCollum used the story of fulgurite formation to insinuate parallels to many of our culture's fantasies about the "instant" production of objects. In the summer of 1997, we arranged for Allan to collaborate with an electrical engineer from the University of Florida's International Lightning Research Facility at Camp Blanding to trigger lightning strikes by launching small rockets with hair-thin copper wires trailing behind them directly into storm clouds. The triggered lightning bolt was directed to various containers prepared by the artists with layers of minerals. The lightning instantly liquefied columns of sand with temperatures up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. A local sand castle company produced 10,000 replicas of the fulgurite created by the lightning strike at Camp Blanding. This was the basis of the CAM exhibition and an installation at MOSI that described the process.
Kropf: My most memorable experience was taking a position at the Dalí Museum in 1971 and continuing to grow with the evolution of that private collection into the museum it is today.
Foe: Early in 2014, USFCAM opened the exhibition "[email protected]: Social Interaction." Concurrent with that exhibition, the Tampa Museum of Art opened "Graphicstudio: Uncommon Practice at USF."
Either one of these shows were rather extraordinary installations individually, but taken together, they provided proof positive of the tremendous impact that USF has had not only just on our local community but also on a global scale.
I had the good fortune to be engaged in all aspects of the planning, preparation and installation for both exhibitions. It was the experience of a lifetime.
Voeller: Hands down my favorite experiences have involved working with artists to produce new projects. USFIRA places a lot of emphasis on supporting artists as they realize new work. Last month we helped artist Kalup Linzy shoot a new video for our fall exhibition. My colleague Peter Foe set up the perfect backdrop and lighting, and Kalup performed a song he had written as one of his signature characters, Taiwan. Everything about the resulting video was terrific, and the satisfaction of knowing "We helped make this" was deep.
Smith: Two come to mind: "Los Carpinteros: Inventing the World," 2005. That was the Cuban duo's first big solo show anywhere, and my first big show as a curator, and we travelled it to Cincinnati, Chicago and London, Ontario. We were particularly interested in sending it to a museum in Canada so the artists could see it, as they couldn't get visas to travel to the U.S.
The second was the Cuban video show ("Occupying, Building, Thinking: Poetic and Discursive Perspectives on Contemporary Cuban Video Art 1990-2010") we did in 2013. Viewing video can be really hard on an audience's attention, especially a loop that is over an hour in length that deals with a very foreign milieu. So I had the idea of bringing in an artist to create a kind of Revolutionary Cuban living room—home decor there is stuck in the '50s and pretty dilapidated, so we found wrought iron, chairs, lamps and funky things in junk yards and thrift stores, and made comfortable seating areas and hung pictures of Che and Lenin on the walls. The artist did a great job at capturing the flavor, and we found that our viewers actually sat for extended periods of time to watch the videos and seemed to gain a heightened appreciation of the works.
Pill: I love the quirky issues that can arise when working on contemporary installations. Oftentimes, being a good contemporary curator means being a good problem-solver. I'd have to say that my most memorable experiences stem from my time co-directing the apartment gallery Concertina while in graduate school in Chicago. We showed emerging and mid-career artists from across the United States and Canada, and it was exciting to experiment with and learn from an unconventional curatorial practice. We did everything from installing a coffin in one of the bedrooms, to hosting a hypnosis session and a live knitting performance. It wasn't exactly a sustainable model, but I learned so much from that experience about how — and how not to — present artworks.
Pevnick: For me the most memorable experiences have had to do with the Poseidon exhibition. The exhibition opening here in Tampa was particularly special for me because it had been in the works for so long, beginning as an idea I pitched when I first applied for the job. And then taking the exhibition to the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, where I went to school, was particularly special. To see so many objects gathered from different collections all in one place was incredibly exciting, and a true testament to the hard work and cooperation of so many of my colleagues in Tampa and far beyond.
Howard: The first museum exhibition I curated was a show focusing on the sculptures and artistic process of USF professor Richard Beckman, an influential professor and friend of mine, ten years after his suicide. Kathy Gibson, a local art curator, initially had the idea for the exhibition, but through a series of events I was given the opportunity to curate the exhibition at USFCAM. I worked with Richard's family and friends and gathered material from collections and archives across the country to use in the exhibition. The exhibition brought together a community of Richard's family, friends, collectors and students to celebrate his life and work. The USF Institute for Research in Art and the School of Art & Art History were also able to install a permanent public sculpture on campus, donated by Richard's family to the university. Family and friends came to Tampa for the sculpture dedication ceremony and the exhibition's closing. It was a very emotional process for me and for everyone who knew Richard. Since the exhibition, a number of people have told me how much they enjoyed seeing Richard's work together again, and I really feel privileged to have had the opportunity to honor such a talented artist, professor and dear friend and his amazing work.
Whitelaw: I believe the ee the experience that I find the most memorable (maybe, humorous) is my role as a legal "art thief." I so enjoy going to pick up artwork from a lender for an exhibition. I feel like a true robber, going into a person's home and taking all the art off their walls and then having them wave goodbye as I depart. The museum's preparatory, and my culprit in crime, do this quite regularly, and we just look at each other as we drive off saying, "Well, we pulled off another heist." I do admire how generous art-loving lenders are and, although I do take it seriously about providing proper care of their work, just how trusting they are, too.
Please give a specific description of your job as a curator at the institution for which you work.
Kropf: My title is deputy director, curator of the collection. I am an advocate for the works of Salvador Dalí, developing new knowledge and perspectives. I am accountable for the protection, conservation and preservation of the permanent collection of the Dalí Museum. I am responsible for growing and interpreting the collection in order to educate, entertain and intrigue our visitors.
Foe: My primary focus is the use and care associated with the collection of art held by the University of South Florida. The emphasis of the collection is mostly contemporary works of art on paper from 1960 forward.
The collection is exhibited broadly, which means that I am generally engaged in building those exhibitions while insuring that the work is properly maintained. While that may sound simple, my days are jam-packed, and it seems as if I head home each day just a bit further behind.
Voeller: My job is roughly split between organizing exhibitions and organizing educational programs, including a series of observation training workshops that we offer specifically to students of health care.
Smith: As curator of Latin American and Caribbean art, I research artists and art, propose residencies and exhibitions, and make them happen, all with an eye to our specific audience and programming. This includes seeing a lot of art in shows and publications, travelling to meet artists and gallerists, creating proposals for shows, selecting works and collaborating with the museum team to bring the works to the museum and design and install the show. Interpretive writing for catalogs, brochures and labels, and conducting educational public programming are also part of the job, as is fundraising.
Pill: In one word, it's varied — and that's the beauty of the job of a curator. Installation is my favorite part of working in a museum and takes place throughout the year. At other times, I might be doing research, writing, traveling, meeting with collectors and museum donors, or conducting various administrative tasks, often pertaining to the permanent collection. Right now, I am working on the exhibition "Marks Made: Prints by American Women Artists from the 1960s to the Present," which opens in October. This entails writing didactic labels, working on the layout, confirming image credits and helping to organize related programming.
My specific position at the museum was created relatively recently, with the goal of developing its commitment to the art of our day. To that end, we've created a new media gallery and have reinstated the membership group the Contemporaries. I am really focusing on our Lunchtime Lectures series, and finding ways to open up discussion about the role of art in our everyday lives.
Pevnick: I think I covered a lot of this above, but I will add that my job in Tampa is particularly interesting because I am both chief curator, overseeing the curatorial department, and curator of Greek and Roman art, my specialty. Since we are not an encyclopedic museum, visitors inevitably leap many centuries between galleries at some point. I've tried to find ways to make this leap not only less jarring but also — at times — an interesting and meaningful juxtaposition. I've learned a lot about modern and contemporary art over the last six years and have found many points of intersection across cultures and time periods. Many aspects of art are universal and timeless, and we share many of the same concerns that our ancient forebears did as well.
Howard: Florida has an Art in State Buildings program. For every building built by the state, 0.5 percent of the building's construction budget from the state goes toward public art in or around that building. As curator of public art and social practice at the University of South Florida, I am responsible for the initiation, development, education and management of the Art in State Buildings Collection on the three USF campuses. I also work with our socially engaged team, SEAworthy, to build and engage new audiences with community-based projects using creative and innovative approaches to addressing social issues.
Whitelaw: As curator of the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, my work includes organization or coordination of four to six changing exhibitions per year, four to six smaller exhibitions and/or permanent gallery installations, and other object change-outs. I try to provide research and organization to at least one major exhibition each year. This is all in addition to the general responsibilities I outlined earlier.
What advice would you give to museum visitors for maximum enjoyment and appreciation?
Miller: A well-conceived and designed exhibition usually has multiple ways for viewers with varying backgrounds and interests to access the subject/content/meaning of the exhibition. Most of us are constantly stimulated and engaged with social media and rarely take the time to slow down enough to look carefully with an open mind at an art exhibition. Art museums are the ideal environment to hone your observational and critical skills. Curators often provide didactic labels, handouts or media access to the ideas, themes and backgrounds of the artists on exhibition. One can look at the work for aesthetic pleasure and if engaged can find many ways to have an in depth experience. For challenging exhibitions I often visit, take it in, buy the catalog, review available materials and then if possible visit the exhibition a second time.
Kropf: I suggest that before you visit the museum, you familiarize yourself with the artist through websites, books, etc. Allow enough time, dress comfortably and take advantage of audio guides, text panels or our free public docent tour for information about a selection of the works on display… linger longer at the ones you enjoy the most. If you came with someone, spend time discussing and sharing your thoughts and reactions.
Foe: In our era, it has become relatively easy to gather information about the world around us. Before you travel to any particular museum or exhibition, do as much as you can to research what you'll be visiting, and then try to connect as directly with the museum staff through programs offered by that institution. These might include curator lectures, docent tours or even symposia featuring the artists in the exhibit.
Museum personnel generally want to interact with the public and help provide a context for what they do. Help the museum help you by doing some research to find specific things that pique your interests so that you can ask informed questions.
Voeller: Turn your cell phone off and, if possible, treat your museum visit like a meditation. I feel the most refreshed and enlightened after I have spent intensive time with a limited number of artworks. Especially at encyclopedic museums, I tend to give up quickly on the idea of seeing everything and try to have a truly quality experience with half a dozen pieces. (Now that more and more collections are well-documented online, what you're at a museum for is really to look at things in person.) Sit in front of that especially captivating piece, and find yourself learning to see all over again. Give the experience a good 15 minutes. I wish more museums offered free admission, because I think that would encourage a sense that people should feel free to drop in and see their favorite sculptures, or just focus on one work during a visit. Back to the cell phone — I often Instagram my museum visits, but I try to snap photos after I've experienced an artwork and not as a substitute for engaging with it. We use a discussion method called visual thinking strategies at USFCAM, and I've gotten so that even when I'm alone as a viewer — as opposed to part of a group discussion — I ask myself the basic question "What is going on here?" about a work of art. Most artworks are richly complex and layered. If you sit in front of a piece for 15 minutes and seriously entertain the question "What's going on here?" you're going to find a lot.
Smith: Be open to new ideas and experiences. Enjoy unreservedly what you love, but if you really don't understand or even hate a work at first sight, ask yourself why. Give the artist and the work a chance; you might be surprised at the result.
Pill: I personally am very much a label-reader, but that's not everyone's museumgoing style. I would suggest going to wherever your eye is drawn, and think about what made that particular work stand out to you. A museum visit can allow for some powerful self-reflection, in addition to being an educational experience.
Pevnick: Take your time, relax and enjoy the view. I think the rewards of close looking cannot be overestimated. Rather than trying to read every label and see every artwork, I encourage people to spend more time looking at fewer objects. Sir John Beazley, the great scholar of ancient Greek pottery, once wrote, "Any day a new vase, or a familiar one seen again, may light up a dark corner." His perspective was of course different from that of most of our visitors, but I think the sentiment is apt — you never know what you might see if you take a close look, whether at something completely new or something you've seen many times before.
Howard: Don't feel like you have to look at or see everything in the galleries, especially at the larger institutions. Take your time to slow down and enjoy looking at the works you are emotionally and aesthetically drawn to for a more rewarding and enriching experience.
Whitelaw: At the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art we have the best group of highly trained docents I have ever worked with. I have to say that the passion for art, learning and sharing by volunteer docents is one of the things that makes museums in the United States so unique (and makes us the envy of many countries). Because we are part of an educational institution here at St. Petersburg College, we have docents who are available to students and the public several days a week, and they also give public tours on Sundays. To maximize the enjoyment and appreciation of any museum, hearing it explained by a docent or museum staff can make the art come alive and feel interpreted in human experience, rather than (hopefully) not just as "art speak."
"Curate" has been appropriated by everyone from lifestyle gurus (curate your life!) to breweries (a flight of craft beers curated!). How do you feel about that?
Miller: Curating has been applied to all sorts of fields — I embrace this, as it suggests a level of expertise and that whatever has been assembled has been carefully considered. I don't think most viewers understand that a well-curated exhibition can provide a powerful experience
What is disappointing is the number of museums that just put up work to cover the walls without knowing how or wanting to create a stimulating exhibition. There are some really poorly conceived exhibitions, and this frustrates viewers as often they are let down and are frankly "turned off" to art and museum exhibitions. I remember a Warhol exhibition that I was asked to talk about with a group (at another area museum), and I had to note that it did not represent Warhol's practice. There is a broad range of methodologies to curating. I like to see innovative exhibitions that are thoughtful and that engage me in comparisons and resonances that I can discover as I experience an exhibition — this is what we have been doing and will continue to do at the USF Contemporary Art Museum.
Kropf: I'm not opposed to it; it adds a sense of sophistication to a trendy activity.
Foe: That's a tough one — to some extent I like the fact that a term associated with what I do can be perceived as something that adds value. On the other hand, overuse can become kind of a guarantee for style fatigue, and so it probably won't be long before the term curator will be viewed as yesterday's stale bread. Of course, twenty years from now there will be a brief revival!
Voeller: I don't mind it. I think it shows a growing cultural appreciation in America for quality, versus quantity, of experience.
Smith: It is a little-understood term, and I am actually glad to see it used in everyday contexts. I think this can only help to illuminate how the concept relates to a visual arts exhibition. Also, curating at any level — researching, selecting, arranging, weighing qualities, delivering opinions — sharpens critical faculties and judgment, necessary in our world so overloaded with messages, images and products.
Pill: I'm all for democratizing the role of the curator, but I worry that the word "curate" is being used without much thought as to what it actually means. I'm reading a really interesting book right now by David Balzer called Curationism. It's a (very) critical exploration of the evolving role of curator, and its place in the contemporary art world and pop culture.
Pevnick: The first few times I heard it I was a bit puzzled; the term doesn't seem quite right to me in these other contexts. But I'm becoming more accustomed to it, and I'm certainly not going to change pop culture or linguistic trends. From a museum standpoint, it has led to a trend allowing museum visitors to engage in a different way with exhibitions, whether simply by imagining how they might have organized an exhibition differently from what they see, or actually being able to participate in some way, via websites, social media, etc. I think it has the potential to energize museums in new ways.
Howard: I feel like the use of the term "curate" provides a certain cache of importance to the selected offerings, providing a powerful sense of order and control to what can often be an overwhelming array of choices in any aspect of our daily lives.
Whitelaw: Museums tend to have lofty titles that mystify and often do us a disservice, making us seem elite — curator, registrar, preparator, etc. I feel that if the term "curator" is being used and understood by the public, and not misused or abused, then it can be a positive. Curator means "to take care" of something and that is the point that should be conveyed — that we care for objects, plain and simple.
Describe your personal style and taste; what art do you collect?
Kropf: My taste is mostly 20th century art and photography. I collect a range of antiques from that same period.
Foe: Over the years, my tastes have changed quite a lot, but generally I seem to collect things associated with my pastimes and where they meet popular culture. For example, when I was younger, I did a lot of camping and hiking, and so during that time I collected flashlights like crazy. More recently I've been brewing beer, and so I seem to be accumulating bottle openers — a friend even brought me one from a trip he made to China. I am happy to report it's not only a visual treat but it also works great!
Voeller: I have drawings, photographs and prints by a number of artists with Tampa connections, including Claudia Ryan, Roger Palmer, Josette Urso, Megan Bisbee, Jen Saavedra, Julie Weitz, Ryann Slausson, Maria Bevilacqua and Ruby C. Williams. Interspersed are pieces that I've picked up while traveling and some of my travel photographs, which are strictly the work of an enthusiastic amateur. There's a fantastic ink-on-mylar landscape drawing by Claudia Ryan of tiny houses hovering beneath a sky of tangled lines on the mantle of my fireplace; next to it is a dryly comic print that was a giveaway at Jeremy Deller's 2013 British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. (It shows a colossal Karl Marx throwing a yacht into the Venetian lagoon, King Kong-style.) I tend to like things that are smart, wry and have a lot of impact as images, whether photographed or drawn.
Smith: Professionally, I like technically accomplished contemporary art in any medium that effectively touches on important issues in our lives; I'm interested in art from foreign cultures that helps us to understand the world. Personally, I collect many different types of art, but I am especially fond of handmade painted papier maché objects from Cuba — wall plates, purses, cats, coffee pots, classic cars…. It's an art born of poverty and ingenuity, and practiced by inexperienced and highly trained artists alike. I find it on the streets of Havana, and it's very affordable.
Pill: My personal collection is pretty far removed from my role at the museum, and that is how it should be, I think, as there are numerous ethical issues that one must keep in mind as a museum professional. I'm good at compartmentalizing. Generally speaking, my color palette at home is fairly restricted — a lot of black and white. Thematically, my taste tends towards works that explore issues of adolescence. Read into that what you will!
Pevnick: I have become spoiled by working around magnificent art each day. I can't afford to have this type of artwork in my home, but that's okay with me. My wife and I have two beautiful young children and no shortage of their freshly made original artwork around our house. Someday I'd love to have a piece of pottery painted by the potter/vase-painter Syriskos, the main subject of my dissertation work, since I feel like I've spent so much time with him. But his work doesn't come on the market frequently and it's better kept in museums anyway, where many people can enjoy it.
Howard: I appreciate well-crafted art that examines our current contemporary cultural conditions through humor and wit. I collect mostly prints and digital video works because as editions they are affordable and don't require as much space to store.
Whitelaw: I have been fortunate to know and work with many artists over the years. I so admire the creative work that they do, and as someone who has been around a long time, I have had the unique opportunity to see many of them grow and develop their aesthetic. I wish I could have afforded to become a connoisseur of art for either investment or pleasure (and sometimes I think I should have listened to my own advice), but I am exceedingly happy to own art from the wonderful artists I have known. It is personal, eclectic and with the number of pieces I continue to acquire, also satisfies my desires to sit around like Dr. Albert Barnes and John Dewey with a glass of port and arrange them on my walls. I find the interactions they may take in being rearranged to open up new ways to think about them.