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Schools Guide / July 4, 2019

Criticism and Curatorial Studies: A Growing Field

Selecting and revising, shaping and sharing: these are all elements of a complex practice
OCAD University students install <em>Revolution</em> as part of the 2018 Winter Stations public art exhibition at Woodbine Beach, Toronto. Studying curating and criticism at an art school provides many opportunities to interact with emerging practitioners in art and design. Photo: Facebook/OCAD University. OCAD University students install Revolution as part of the 2018 Winter Stations public art exhibition at Woodbine Beach, Toronto. Studying curating and criticism at an art school provides many opportunities to interact with emerging practitioners in art and design. Photo: Facebook/OCAD University.

The verb “curate” has increased in popular usage in recent years. But to curate exhibitions with historical and contemporary artworks takes study, skill and sensitivity. A variety of programs and courses can help develop that capacity, whether at the graduate, undergraduate or certificate level.

A Broad Set of Approaches

In recent years, two universities that started with graduate programs in curating and criticism have expanded their programs into undergraduate as well. OCAD University offers both an MFA and a BFA in Criticism and Curatorial Practice, while the University of Toronto offers a BA in Visual Studies with a specialty in Critical Practices as well as a Master of Visual Studies in Curatorial Studies.

“U of T’s graduate program affords students the ability to do an exhibition at the Art Museum, and because of the museum, students are able to borrow works from public collections,” says associate professor and executive director/chief curator Barbara Fischer.

As curatorial work in contemporary art grows, so do related educational programs. “Traditionally, curators dealing in Renaissance art, for example, would have had art history PhDs,” Fischer says, “but now, contemporary art curators are producing the exhibitions that will become art history.”

Graduate Degrees for Today’s Art Contexts

The Master of Arts in Criticial and Curatorial Studies program at the University of British Columbia was the first curatorial graduate degree in Canada.

It continues to lead the way: curricula include three required graduate seminars, a second-year public round table to assist with the writing of a major paper and a yearlong graduate practicum to support the development of an exhibition. Resources on campus include leading cultural institutions like the Museum of Anthropology and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, among others.

Newer to graduate curatorial studies is the University of Winnipeg, which offers Curatorial Practices as a specialization within its Master of Arts program in Cultural Studies.

This innovative, 12-month, course-based program includes a practicum. The Idea of the Museum is one of the core courses, while Spring 2019 electives include Eco-Criticism and Cultural- Level Approaches to Climate Change, as well as Race, Fashion, Beauty. Proximity to Winnipeg’s downtown arts district, with institutions like the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, is a plus.

Practical and Scholarly Diploma Options

A newly established Graduate Diploma in Cultural Studies program is now available at Carleton University. One stream is for MA and PhD students at the university, while another is available to those wishing to supplement existing academic degrees or professional expertise.

One big emphasis is on how museums are opening up to the public. “It used to be that the model of the curator was someone who took care of collections almost in a monk-like way,” professor Ming Tiampo told Maclean’s earlier this year. Change “has to do with shifting ideologies about the role of museums, and it has to do with the assertion of communities who have said, ‘You can’t just represent us without consulting us.’”

York University also offers a well-established Curatorial Practice Diploma for MA Art History students.

Mixing Studio Practice with Intensive Study

Providing critical training within the context of a studio-focused environment is at the core of the Critical and Cultural Practices BFA at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Academic classes make up half the curriculum, with studio courses being the other half. The school also offers a Curatorial Practices Minor.

Some similar options exist at Alberta College of Art and Design through its BFA Critical and Creative Studies program. Ryerson University‘s School of Image Arts, in Toronto, now also provides a Minor in Curatorial Studies option, which includes a Curatorial Practices course.

Some Unique Art Criticism Opportunities

There are other, less conventional ways to gain training in art writing. Among them is the NSCAD University Minor in Journalism, offered with King’s University. Another is the Banff Centre‘s  ongoing Arts Writer in Residence program, offered as part of the centre’s curatorial institute.

This article is adapted from Canadian Art Schools Guide: Art Workers, a special print supplement in the Winter 2019 issue of Canadian Art.