How To Become an Independent Curator Sarah Sparkes Explains

Sarah Sparkes

I am an Artist Curator. I also teach the short course ‘How To Become an Independent Curator’ at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London.

I learnt how to be a curator by just doing it! – Sarah Sparks

My first adventures with curating were ambitious large scale group shows, with complex installs, in spacious warehouse type venues. I was lucky, for an amateur with no previous experience of curating, it all turned out well. I loved it and was immediately hooked. I’ve been curating for 12 years, both independently and by invitation. In the past, I’ve curated numerous exhibitions, on-going projects and events in a wide range of spaces. Currently, my main focus is my visual arts and interdisciplinary research project GHost.

I learnt how to be a curator by just doing it! I read books, essays and articles on curating. However, regarding the practicalities, I gained far more from other curator friends whose unofficial mentoring and advice was invaluable. I soon discovered that as an independent curator, without an institutional infrastructure to support me, I was responsible for every aspect of the exhibitions I organised. From the excitement of selecting work, liaising with artists, planning the exhibition from layout to de-install, writing the press release, to cleaning up after the private view, it ultimately was all on me. It demanded tremendous energy, tenacity, goodwill and trust.

In truth, I could not have done it all alone. I had the support of good friends, often among the artists I was curating and from various partners – partners here meaning organisations, businesses, individuals etc. who have a mutually beneficial working relationship with the curator and their exhibition.

Since 2008 I have been teaching the short course, ‘How To Become an Independent Curator’ at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London. The course introduces students to the practical elements they need to begin independent curating themselves and is packed with useful information drawn from experience. There is some discussion of contemporary thought and writing around curating. There are talks from visiting curators – this term international curator Rob La Frenais gave a lecture. In addition, there is a day of gallery visits in which students meet curators and gallerists in their spaces, hearing about their work first hand. At the end of the course, students present individual proposals for an exhibition.

The students are not all artists; they come from all kinds of backgrounds – I’ve even had a couple of barristers. What links them is their passion for art and their desire to work with artists. On the course, they find out if they have the drive to continue a career as a curator. Indeed, many of my students have gone on to have successful careers as independent curators or take their study further on an MA curating course.

The purpose of my course is to give the students independence and confidence. So, when Artlyst asked me to write a review of my course, I asked them if my students could be part of this by writing reviews of some of the exhibitions we have visited.

You can read the reviews here:

Zabludowicz Collection and New Art Projects

You can find out more about ‘How To Become An Independent Curator’ short course at CSM here:

Read more about the GHost project here
Sociual media links instagram and twitter @thesarahsparkes @csmshortcourses


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