‘Curatorial practice unpacked’… sector development and dialogue at the SPARK Symposium

— by Jo Foster

Learning conservation techniques with Carolyn McLennan.

We recently hosted the SPARK NT Symposium  in partnership with Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre in Katherine. Scheduled to coincide with the display of the inaugural SPARK NT exhibition, Clare Armitage’s FECUND: Fertile Worlds, the symposium was a chance to reflect on curatorial practice in the NT and to inspire budding curators.

Curatorial practice unpacked‘ ran over two days, Friday 6 and Saturday 7 July, bringing artists, arts workers, curators and the general public together to share professional and personal experiences. Artsworkers travelled from as far away as Tiwi Islands and presenters were drawn from the NT and interstate.

The Friday incorporated morning sessions focusing on objects and how to care for them followed by afternoon sessions that explored the potential for objects to tell stories through exhibitions. Dennis Stokes and John Waight highlighted the significance of objects and keeping places and Carolyn McLennan gave us some hands on experience of conservation techniques. No-one will ever look at barks, acrylic paintings or weavings in the same way again!

After lunch, Glen Iseger-Pilkington and Jessica Clark shared their take on what curating is.  Following this Clare Armitage and Cath Bowdler lead a walk through Clare’s exhibition Fecund and discussed the decision-making involved to include works and arrange them in the gallery space. For a more hands on approach Jack Egan got us drilling into walls and solving tricky installation scenarios. To wrap up the day Marlene Timothy gave us a wonderful presentation about her dual roles as Cultural Events Officer with Artback NT and as Arts Worker at Waralungku Arts Centre and spoke about all the things going on in Borroloola to support art and culture including the spectacular Malandarri Festival.

Saturday took up the conversations sparked during day one and continued unpacking, beginning with an inspiring keynote ‘The Curator as Go-Between by Dr Wendy Garden that set the tone for the day. This was followed by a series of curatorial case studies and sessions on professional pathways. A main theme of the day was reflecting on experience and presenters shared a range of curatorial models whether focusing on an individual artist’s practice or working with an entire community, investigating a specific medium or using a project as a place to generate works for an exhibition. Clare Armitage also gave a very insightful presentation about her experience as the inaugural SPARK NT curator. There were a number of cross cultural and collaborative projects in the mix which raised many interesting points for discussion in the Q&A sessions that followed.

To close the day Cath Bowdler’s presentation ‘The Accidental Curator’ shared the experiences of her long term career in the arts, including the highlights and the learning curves, and Jo Foster gave a brief info session on the opportunities presented through the SPARK NT Curator program. The full program with presentation abstracts and presenters bios can be viewed on the SPARK NT Symposium page.

With the formal sessions complete everyone gathered to watch a performance of the Djilpin Dancers on the lawns outside before coming together for dinner to continue discussions.

We thank all the presenters for their generosity in sharing their expertise and experiences and GYRACC for partnering in hosting the event. A big thanks also to everyone who attended for their energy, warmth and commitment to NT arts. The conference generated much discussion and most in attendance said they would like more time to keep discussing and reflecting on the wealth of material that was presented.

As one audience member said,

‘The NT needs more forums such as this for dialogue and sector development. It’s important to connect with each other and not to be siloed.’

Thanks also to Artback NT Chair Denise Salvestro and Board Members Dennis Stokes and John Waight for their impressive leadership, energy and engagement!

We hope to do it again soon!  All photos by Jocelyn Tribe.