Minneapolis, MN—February 2007
A guest approached the counter.
“Great show,” she said. “Very thoughtful. The pinhole prints are just lovely.”
I smiled. “Thank you! Yes, those are some of my favorites!”
“Do you have work in the show?” she asked.
“I’m a curator,” I responded, pleased with the exhibit and excited to talk about the curation.
She looked at me quizzically as though to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you mean.” Instead she simply said, “Oh,” looking a little disappointed. “Not an artist?”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t have any works in the show if that’s what you mean—”
Before I could finish she quickly thanked me and walked away . . . in search of an artist to talk to.
The Art of Service was a thoughtful exhibition, full of mixed-media works, photography, and even some sculpture. Tonja Torgerson created pinhole photography that perfectly captured the sometimes fuzzy, dark world of life in a coffee shop from the view of a barista. Michael Harlan Turkell captured the energy and beauty of working in the service industry as a waiter.
Margie Gamache exhibited her works for the first time after taking decades off from creating. Her mixed-media works documented her experience as a school chef and working with a pregnant girls program, which helped make sure teenage moms were getting adequate nutrition.
Curating was a blast. I worked with my dear friend Lucas to pull everything together. We wanted everything to fit the theme, so we prepared accordingly. I stopped by Ideal Diner, one of the last restaurants I knew that wasn’t using a point-of-sale computer system. Instead they were still using traditional handwritten food-order tickets and an old-time cash register. They generously gave me a pad of order tickets, on which we hand-wrote the artist labels. I meticulously stamped each printed brochure with a ring of coffee. We walked the opening like proper staff, white shirted, pouring… absolutely nothing! (We would never serve anything without a permit!)
It wasn’t the first time I was asked if I was an artist and questioned about curation, and it wouldn’t be the last. But it would be a few more years before I was able to confidently identify curating as the art that it is. The movement from concept to idea, idea to execution. Identifying artists that were a perfect fit, or working with artists to help them execute their own ideas for works and installations. Curating is indeed an art, a labor of love all its own.
I think you can be creative no matter what role you play, even if your job isn’t traditionally considered a creative one. A beautifully executed report, a visually compelling spreadsheet, or even a well-crafted grant narrative. A reminder: creativity is an asset to your work, not a liability.
This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community with illustrations by Athena Currier. Post graphics by Jamie Schumacher. ©2019.
It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.