I graduated from Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University in 2003. Afterwards I stayed in Nottingham and worked for a long time as a curator. One of my first projects was an exhibition of work by artists graduating from art schools across the Midlands. I went to art schools in Leicester, Birmingham and Derby and selected the work of 17 young artists. That exhibition was really well received. I was also part of setting up the artists’ studio One Thoresby Street, which is still going; a lot of interesting artists have since come through there. Although I enjoyed being part of this Nottingham scene, I eventually decided I needed to broaden my horizons and professionalise my practice. It was working as an assistant curator to the curatorial group Chamber of Public Secrets on a biennial in Spain (Manifesta 8) that finally persuaded me that I should apply to do a Master’s in curating.
With my practical experience, I was looking for a Master’s programme that would allow me to engage in philosophical and critical debate and would help me gain a stronger historical and theoretical understanding of my practice. I chose Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art with the hope of working out exactly where my passions and my professional interests lay. I knew I that I was interested in peripatetic exhibitions – for example, exhibitions that move from country to country – and I wanted to have the chance to give this interest critical attention, and see where that would take me. I also wanted to work collaboratively with a group of curators; peer-to-peer learning has always been important to me.
While my BA was almost entirely practical, CCA was much more academic. I had to basically start from scratch again. I think that this kind of reappraisal is fundamental to studying at Master’s level: you get to come at things afresh, and learn from the thoughts and opinions of other people.
The CCA programme prepares you for future work within institutions and teaches the value of collaboration, and of reaching a group consensus. These skills are incredibly important as it’s very rare in professional life that you’ll ever be working entirely on your own.
The culmination is the final exhibition. Produced to museum standards, it really is your calling card – you can take that experience with you wherever you go. The exhibition that we staged was called ‘No One Lives Here’, and featured work by both established and early career artists, including Hito Steyerl and David Raymond Conroy.
Alongside the group work, the programme also gives you the chance to develop your own research, largely through the dissertation. My dissertation was on Manifesta 9, considering how a biennial might respond to its locality. I’ve always been interested in things that take place outside of the centre, and I’m now lucky to be working as the curator of Folkestone Artworks, which is Folkestone’s permanent collection of public artworks – the legacy of the Folkestone Triennial.
The Curating Contemporary Art programme at the RCA is invaluable. It gives you the space and time to pursue your own research, as well as the opportunity be guided and supported by people with a huge amount of experience in the industry. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it.
"Curating Contemporary Art at the RCA is invaluable. It gives you the space and time to pursue your own research, as well as the opportunity be guided and supported by people with a huge amount of experience in the industry. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without it."