(EDITOR'S NOTE: Next week's On the Arts Showcase will feature the first article in a new series called "Taking Care," which will focus on curators and gallery directors throughout our region.)
The word "curator" is derived from the Latin "curare," meaning "to take care." A curator is a keeper of a cultural institution like an art gallery, a museum or a historical building. Curators literally "take care" of our cultural artifacts. They maintain collections and create exhibitions intended to preserve, display and educate the public about these artifacts' aesthetic value and historical importance.
Central Pennsylvania is home to a number of galleries and museums, including several right here in Williamsport. Many have spoken about the art boom that has taken place locally in the last 10 years and we've heard much about the artists who populate this region. Little attention, however, has been paid to the gallery directors and curators who have worked to promote and exhibit the work of our local artists. This series will seek to correct this imbalance by focusing on the men and women behind the scenes, the ones picking the art and hanging the canvases.
This series sets out to answer a number of questions which have no doubt occurred to gallery and museum-goers alike:
Who chooses the art or artist for an exhibition? How is this decision made? How is an exhibition put together? What does a place in a gallery confer on a work of art? And, of course, that pesky question guaranteed to provoke a heated debate: just what is art, anyway?
Curators are - or have the potential to be - taste makers. They are responsible, after all, for deciding which artist will receive public attention and which will toil away in some obscure garret, unrecognized in their own time, but hailed as a genius 100 years after their death.
OK, maybe I'm overstating the point a bit. But the point is, nevertheless, a valid one. Curators play a vital role in the production and consumption of art. Ultimately, they affect the way all of us see and experience art. More importantly, they make art accessible to the wider public.
A curator often has a variety of responsibilities, which vary from one institution to the next, depending on the size of the gallery, its mission, budget and number of staff. In a large museum, a curator can be an expert in a fairly narrow field, such as 17th century Dutch painting. In a smaller gallery, a curator is often required to be a jack-of-all-trades, doing everything required to keep the gallery up and running: from administration to advertising, bookkeeping to public relations.
Whatever else they may do, curators further the mission of the art gallery, and a good art gallery is like a good coffee shop or a good bookstore - it's a place where people gather to meet and talk; a place of communion and reflection far from the bustle of the supermarket or the shopping mall.
The first curator in the series will be Rose DiRocco-Hodges, gallery director of the Lycoming College and Eagles Mere Galleries.
Until next week, take care.