New Art WM – Developing the ‘Curators’ Network’

This week, I was invited to take part in the second of a series of meetings convened for curators by New Art WM in Birmingham. The afternoon discussion was to help develop a new Curators’ Network building on the first meeting with curators in charge of public collections, where this meeting was for independent curators. Taking place at Birmingham City University’s School of Art, it began with an introduction to the Art Market Project, now called New Art WM, linked to the current ‘Annuale 2015’ exhibition on show at Article Gallery. Here are some thoughts from the session…

New Art WM

A two-year programme and market-facing project, it aims to develop a market for contemporary art in the West Midlands, working alongside Turning Point West Midlands, to strength the voice of contemporary arts in the region and nationally. TPWM is artist facing, creating artist opportunities, whereas New Art WM is more public facing creating new audiences to see, buy and collect new work. Rachel Bradley part of the New Art WM team, highlighted two audiences as part of the audience development strategy:

  1. Home market, on the ground, localised market…individuals, business, corporate, community districts in Birmingham;
  2. Visual art specialist market…target those visual arts specialists in the region and outside the region, promote to curators nationally/internationally. The work of artists from the West Midlands into public collections. Developing a friends and patrons network.

“Need to retain intelligence and use for the collective good” – Rachel Bradley

It is not just for an art world audience. New Art WM provides:

  • Art fair support for organisations who are looking at WM representing artists to art fairs of international repute. This year there is a more international dimension;
  • An acquisitions scheme to get interest from public collections in the region to acquire art from WM artists;
  • Curators’ Network and CPD for curators…there has been a curators’ network in the past more explicit to curators working in institutions.

New Art WM wants to act as a form of facilitation. Rachel questioned how to exploit the New Art WM website. The Curators’ Network were asked to put forward artists for the website that were then put to the New Art WM panel. Currently, there are 36 artists profiled on the website, for 12 months guaranteed. Not definitive of artists in the WM, just a version of what can be done. It also focuses on galleries, projects and collections in the WM. There is also an editorial section open for development and to act as an opportunity for writers.

New Art WM website

New Art WM stated that there are around 105 curators in the West Midlands (for some reason I feel there are far more than this), who form the foundation of the Curators’ Network. They want to strength the professional development of the region, extend the curators role in the endorsement system, expanded practice of the curator…to include a mentoring programme, encouraging people who are part of the network to do art market development for platforms in the region. New Art WM is not to be the be all and end all of the art market practice in the region…curators and organisations asked to also look into the art market and be supported by New Art WM.

Trevor Pitt from A3 Project Space stated he wanted more advocacy for independent curators and producers…”curators” as a slippy word. He thinks independent curators are more resourceful with budgets than institutions…a fear that money does not get to the artist if institutional. What an independent curator is contributing to the cultural scene in the WM…how many artists have we commissioned collective in the last year? How many shows have been put on? It could be through articles that this could be discussed. It is about how we support artists that make new work and what independent producers bring to the market. Is there someone who could write an article on this, on this culture of independent producing?

There has been many discussions about networking online as a group…a lot are members of other online networks…concern to committing to another platform. Possibility on the website for each curator to have a (public or private) profile. Collectively raise our profile to strengthen our position…collectively things are stronger together. A noticeboard for the individual curator? Also develop the success of the newsletter. Potential of running Pecha Kucha events to introduce artists and curators.

Q: How you feel your research areas/abilities are profiled? Have you been enabled to get your research out there? Or have you done it yourself? How does a wider public find out what those interests are? How do we advocate what you are doing as creative producers?

A: Through social media…being “visible”…social. Through public events and study days which were advertised through social networks. Profiling residency artists that are visiting the WM. Birmingham is a place where people pass through…not necessarily stay. It is about connections. “Who’s in town?”


Discussion unfolded into the Birmingham studios groups…Grand Union, demi-groups and studios within Tindal St, The Lombard Method, Jubilee Centre, Stryx, Home for Waifs and Strays, The Production Space, BOM (note only Birmingham based-spaces mentioned here)…more research driven, looking beyond space, looking more creatively and like a parasite to other spaces, the work of Extra Special People by Eastside Projects, online networks, colonies within each studio…the temporality of studios. Rachel went on to speak about The Falmouth Convention as an example of integrating different spaces and creatives – a three-day conference in 2010 that took place in unconventional form, with an emphasis on exchange of views and experiences. Conceived as an international meeting of artists, curators and writers to explore the significance of time and place in relation to contemporary art and exhibition making, it was planned to respond to the situation in Cornwall and other such dispersed, rural areas.

Furthermore, praise was given for the Birmingham Art Map in illuminating the whole route around Birmingham to get to all the art spaces and projects. However, this platform ignores all the artists practice and research happen independently not linked to an organisation. Open studios…Digbeth First Friday…can you use the TPWM network and build on that? Critical tipping point where one wants to work towards…artists knowing their value and independent people knowing their value. It is not a hegemonic intention to turn it’s back on the civic part of Birmingham’s art scene…Eastside Projects and Grand Union have led Birmingham…they get on and do what they want to do…they are more permeable…such as Grand Union’s associate curator scheme.


Discussion led into the arts writer and how Birmingham writers are writing about Birmingham art…this needs to be developed glue between the curator and the artist is a writer…I referenced the success of the current #beacritic campaign with Double Negative currently taking place in Liverpool, and whether this model could be used in the West Midlands.

Q: In terms of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for independent curators…are there avenues of development that you need?

A: Everyone mentioned one-to-one mentorship…the importance of this relationship. Each curator needs their open professional development programme…it’s good to have a “Clore Fellowship” approach to it, then each curator can go and follow their needed path of CPD.

New Art WM 2

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