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2019 Kick Off Events

Thursday February 28, 6 - 8pm: PUBLIC CONVERSATION Cross-City Arts Partnerships: Challenges, Models & Impacts to Amplify New Voices, a panel discussion FREE and open to all.

Friday March 1, 9am - 4:30pm: CURATORIAL SUMMIT Introducing the practice and program of the Curatorial Network Accelerator BOSTON, a facilitated convening, by invitation.

The Curatorial Network Accelerator BOSTON (CNAB) seeks to build cultural equity[1] and expand cultural authorship by strengthening connections among curators and cultural programmers who strive to critically present audiences with art of relevance[2]. The work of CNAB is to align this curatorial practice with a process of intergroup dialogue and inclusive collaboration, transforming exclusionary perceptions of the curator as cultural gatekeeper to the lynchpin role of cultural connecter.

The Challenge:

Data speaks volumes. In Boston, the “majority-minority”[3] population, including the cultural field of artists and curators, cultural presenters and audiences, remains segregated and lacks equity. Despite an overtly educated and socially progressive population, this under-discussed segregation exists along multiple lines of race and ethnicity, as well as lines of class and access to resources. In December 2017, the Boston Globe Spotlight team analyzed Boston’s racist reputation in a seven-part series with data that determined disparities are real; and by 2018 concluded residents are more ready to talk about race.[4] The Boston Creates Cultural Plan cites “significant imbalances and gaps”[5] between the haves and have-nots: the institutional and independent culture makers. At museums, institutional curators benefit from visibility and stable resources, while reflecting national trends[6]: they are overwhelmingly white art historians, and mandated (by leadership that seeks to remain relevant)[7] to reach “more diverse” audiences, but often without having experience, avenues, or agency to effectively do so. Conversely, the City’s independent curators and cultural programmers (working outside of museums) significantly lack such visibility and stable resources, yet harness alternative (arts or activism) experience, networks, methods, and rhetoric to more effectively reach specific communities. What is missing is a mechanism to connect Boston’s museum curators and independent cultural programmers in actionable partnerships to learn from each other.

The Program:

CNAB offers that mechanism to proactively connect curators citywide, accelerating the benefits of a collaborative curatorial network. The mechanism would be a two-part co-mentorship program of 1) group learning and 2) paired learning. CNAB would 1) facilitate and fund a cohort’s group learning through professional development workshops and intergroup dialogue about the segregation of the field, and 2) then support culminating proposals that partner cohort curators of different backgrounds to work together as paired co-authors of a project—an exhibition, event or essay. These final projects for broader audiences would allow the learning to have public impact. Up to ten curators from across Boston’s arts and culture landscape will be selected for each cohort. A key ingredient of the cohort’s makeup is an intersectional composition that straddles institutional and independent curatorial voices, across lines of economic, ethnic, racial, sexual, and generational difference. Ultimately, CNAB would map curatorial relationships that mirror Boston’s civic landscape and synthesize alternative, diverse networks of cultural exchange and collaboration.

The Team:

Click HERE to learn about the colleagues whose diverse curatorial and cohort learning experiences across organizations, generations, and cultural backgrounds have shaped the scope and goals of CNAB.

Contact Us:

We welcome your questions and feedback. To learn more or share constructive insights, critiques, or resources to improve the program, please email the team at CNABostonemail@gmail.com

Organization Mission: Reflected in Structure and Beliefs

The mission of the Curatorial Network Accelerator BOSTON is to address the city’s need for greater cultural equity by creating professional development networks that accelerate access, diversity, and inclusion among Boston’s curators. CNAB has been conceived by and for curators across all backgrounds, disciplines and affiliations in order to achieve four goals: 1) to connect colleagues practicing at the proverbial margins and centers for meaningful and sustained dialogue about the structural barriers that divide them; 2) to collectively and consistently address the privileged roles, responsibilities, and ever-evolving opportunities of the curator in connecting audiences to culture in an intentionally equitable way; 3) to offer co-mentorship programs for knowledge sharing and project development that transform peer-to-peer learning into public outcomes, such as co-authored exhibitions, events, and publications; and 4) to measure, evaluate and distribute “lessons learned” with the curatorial sector and arts organizations in Boston and beyond as a benchmark resource toward best practices.

The structure of CNAB reflects the organization’s highest value: The collective intelligence of the network. Conceived in January 2017 and established in June 2017 by Jen Mergel in ongoing dialogue with a team of curatorial colleagues including Jamin An, Lucas Cowan, Dell Hamilton, Gamaliel Herrera, Ben Hires, Stella Aguirre McGregor, Christina Nielsen, Casey Riley, and Carol Stakenas, CNAB has developed and defined its mission and goals through direct conversations with over eighty colleagues, including curators both within major institutions of art and learning and those operating beyond institutions, embedded within the city’s communities as artist-curators, social activist-curators, non-profit start-up curators and more. Their direct observations, diverse experiences, and insightful perspectives on the current lack of cultural equity in Boston has given shape to the multifaceted problem CNAB aims to address. Their collective interest in opportunities to learn from and collaborate with each other has informed the co-mentorship model CNAB aims to pioneer. Their consistent confirmation that no successful mechanisms yet exist in Boston to address this challenge has affirmed that the work of CNAB is not only relevant but also essential.

CNAB holds this foundational belief: Just as curators shape culture with decisions on who, what, where, and when to present art, they can and should advance cultural equity with transparent decisions on how and why they work to present that art. CNAB acknowledges the pivotal role of curators as societal linchpins who connect audiences to experiences of art that have tangible influence on social discourse and collective thought. The ideas curators introduce through their presentations (in galleries, at a podium, on a page) are only as convincing as the values they themselves enact in their professional practice (through their choices of the sources they consult, the partners with whom they collaborate, the funding resources they accept, the organizational missions they espouse). CNAB supports curators with concrete mechanisms—opportunities to engage with the relevant knowledge, partnerships, funding, and mission—to advance curatorial practices of increased integrity and social impact, in service to greater cultural equity in Boston.

CNAB participation must be equitably funded/compensated: The program’s professional development is an asset, as is the time invested by participants. The cost of participation for cohort curators at institutions with multi-million dollar budgets will be commensurately scaled with the size of the annual operating budget. For those participants who are not salaried or who work independently, their time in CNAB workshops and producing CNAB projects will be compensated with an honorarium. All co-authored projects by curator pairs will be funded by CNAB. Additional matching support by host institutions is expected, again commensurate with the scaled to the annual operating budget.

[1] Click link to 2016 Americans for the Arts “Statement of Cultural Equity.” Defines this term as inclusion of those “historically underrepresented” in the “fair distribution of programmatic, financial, and informational resources.”

[2]  Click link to The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

[3]  Click link to “The State of Equity in Metro Boston” as a “majority-minority” city since the 2010 census.

[4]  Click link to the Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s series on Race in Boston, which starts with the line: “Google the phrase, ‘Most racist city,’ and Boston pops up more than any other place, time and time again.”

[5]  Click link to “Boston Creates Cultural Plan” which sites “silos” as a significant challenge to cultural equity.

[6]  Click link to 2017 announcement to “improve diversity and inclusivity in staffing” which cites their 2015 Museum Diversity Survey: “Among museum curators, conservators, educators, and leaders, only 4 percent of employees are African American, and 3 percent are Hispanic.” The 2018 survey shows disappointingly slow change.

[7] Click links to see recent Boston museum strategic plans’ focus on inclusion and diversity of audience: Boston Athenaeum, ICA Boston, MFA Boston