FOCUS meets Rachael Parsons, who is an Australian curator, educator and academic currently based at New England Regional Art Museum as the Manager for Exhibitions and Curatorial.
How do you become a curator? What do curators do?
I develop and produce exhibitions of artworks for display in museum spaces. The production of an exhibition involves research, project management, arts writing, exhibition design and physically installing the show. I work across all these aspects, along with other gallery staff and our wonderful team of volunteers.
There are a number of ways to become a curator, and there has recently been a great increase in interest and availability in formal curatorial education and training through universities.
I studied fine arts at QUT in Brisbane with the intention to be an artist. While still studying, I became very involved in Datum, a student organisation that organised exhibitions of students’ works, and it was then that I first started to curate shows. By my fourth year at university, my focus had largely shifted from making my own art to making exhibitions, as I found that I could combine my love of art, project management and research skills within the creative environment of the museum. From there I continued to curate exhibitions independently, directed artist run initiatives and an experimental arts festival, worked as a Gallery Services Officer at QAGOMA and I was then employed by QUT to curate their digital and new media exhibition space, The Block.
What is your role at NERAM, and what does it involve?
I have been the Manager Curatorial and Exhibitions at NERAM since July last year, when I moved here from Brisbane. My role involves managing the development and delivery of NERAM’s exhibition program. My time is split between curating, writing grant applications, developing engagement programs and ensuring that each exhibition is on track to be installed into the space and ready for opening night. I don’t do these things alone; everyone at NERAM is involved. I also work with Robert Heather, our director, to forward plan and vision the future development of NERAM and its program.
What are you working on at the moment?
An exciting project coming up is
Resplendent, an exhibition that I am curating that highlights women artists from NERAM’s collections, which will be opening in March 2017. There is a continuing necessity for research and exhibitions that recover women from both the past and present and highlight their many cultural contributions, given their continued absence from dominant art histories. Resplendent includes works from inter-war modernists such as Margret Preston and Thea Proctor to contemporary practitioners who demonstrate an affinity for and experimentation with colour.
What else can we expect to see at NERAM over the next year?
There is so much happening at NERAM in 2017, including some 30 exhibitions. A focus for this year is the Museum of Printing, and we will be running The Print Room, a series of exhibitions and events that highlight print making in its various forms.
What is your favourite artwork in the NERAM collection?
We have over 5,000 artworks in the NERAM collections, and I have only just started to scratch the surface of what they contain. One work that I do particularly like is Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori’s Dibirdibi Country. She was an artist from the Gulf of Carpentaria whose work uses vibrant colours and energetic gestural marks to communicate her personal experiences and sensation of place.
What is the best art exhibition you have seen in the past year? What was exciting about it?
I’m not sure if it was the best, but a recent show I saw and really appreciated was Nude: Art from the Tate Collection, which was shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I particularly enjoyed Rodin’s famous sculpture The Kiss, not a very original pick for favourite, but the work is so compelling and sensual and has this dynamic sense of movement and energy carved into marble.
Are you an artist as well?
I trained as an artist; however, my professional focus has very much transitioned to curating, which is where I put my creative energy. I do love to dabble. But making good art is hard work and requires a very committed focus, and I am too committed in other aspects of my life to fully pursue an art practice.
What are you impressions of the New England region so far?
It is beautiful here, and I understand why so many artists have and continue to paint the landscape in the region. I am delighted that the seasons change so dramatically. There is a great depth of cultural activity that occurs; there are so many artists that live in the region, great galleries, music and festivals.
How do you spend your time when not at the Art Museum?
When I am not at the museum you can generally find me with my pug, Theodore, who moved to Armidale with me. We walk through the Sunday markets, go cycling (Theodore has a basket on the back of my bike), or listen to records at home. He also rides shotgun in the car when I go home to visit my family in Brisbane, which I try to do often. I also love to travel and have recently returned from a three week USA Road trip. My brother and I drove from San Francisco to New Orleans.
How can our readers get involved at NERAM?
Just come visit us, we are open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm, and everyone is welcome. You can also sign up for our e-newsletter via our website, which will inform you of all our exhibitions, talks, events, art classes and workshops: http://www.neram.com.au/now/
To become even more involved, you can always become a Friend of NERAM or a volunteer.