The 10 Things You Learn When You Curate Conversations

Manon Gaudet

            I am pleased to announce that our time at Lornado is not yet coming to a close. The Contemporary Conversations exhibition is going to continue into the fall, with visits from artists Stephen Wilkes and Eric Fischl. The residence salons are also set to continue! We already have some ideas brewing for diversifying our audience (student night anyone?) and our topics (next up, talking about trauma). In the meantime, this blog series is coming to a close.

It is the end of the semester and I know that eyes everywhere are wide and bloodshot with lack of sleep. In the spirit of saving everyone’s eyes from laborious reading, I thought I would end my blog tenure with a list instead of a narrative. Here are the top ten things I learned while curating conversations at Lornado:

  1. When curating conversations, it is important to invite the right people. There are a couple of different options—you can invite large groups, you can invite small groups, you can invite homogenous groups, or you can invite heterogeneous groups. My favourite groups tend towards the small and the heterogeneous. The conversations produced when we had economists, curators, Supreme Court justices, artists, and students in a room together were some of the best.
  1. It is also important to decide where people should sit, when they should sit and for how long. This is the event-planning portion of curating conversations. I knew a fair amount about art, but very little about the important details that go into successfully executing an event. People are more inclined to participate if they can be seated in a circle; when that’s not possible, concentric semi-circles are a good option. That being said, you don’t want people seated for too long, so it can be a good idea to have people move around at some point. Along the same lines, even adults need snack-time. That’s how I learned what “passed-apps” are. It sounds trivial, but food and drink can go a long way towards opening people up.
  1. As a student of art history, I talk a lot about art. But, these conversations are often with other students and professors. I realized the value and importance of hearing diverse opinions on art—especially from those removed from the so-called art world—and likewise the value of encouraging non-art historians to talk about art. It is mutually beneficial. Fair warning to all my non-art historian friends and family: we’ll be going to a lot more galleries together.
  1. When you aren’t expecting the Ambassador to be at your event, expect the Ambassador at your event. But don’t fret. He’s not nearly as frightening as the name implies, and he will surprise you with his insightful comments and participation.
  1. Chatam House Rules gets the conversation flowing. When people aren’t afraid that their comments will be shared, they are a lot more forthcoming with their opinions. More than once someone referenced our ‘no names, no affiliations’ rule before sharing his or her thoughts.
  1. The feeling of awe you get when you walk into the Ambassador’s residence and the butler takes your coat doesn’t go away.
  1. An art history degree opens a lot of doors. I had always assumed that the path for art historians diverged in two forks: academic and curatorial. Working at the residence afforded me the opportunity to meet so many art historians working in a multitude of interesting professions. These include: municipal cultural planners, consultants for the art bank, embassy curators, and journalists among others.
  1. Preparation is key, but you can never predict how an event will turn out. In my experiences so far, they always turn out better than you expect. In essence, it can actually be beneficial to be your own greatest critic.
  1. I thought that working as a ‘residence curator’ was nothing like being a real curator. I now think I was wrong. Perhaps, at its foundations, all curation is about curating conversations.

Thank you for following my journey as a residence curator at the residence of the American Ambassador to Canada. I hope that by following this blog, you learned as much as I did!