Museology Master of Arts Program

May 1, 2018

Curating Topophilia: Exploring Contemporary Art and Building Skills Through the Emerging Curator Initiative (ECI)

AUTHOR: Emily Bowden, Class of 2018. Curator of Topophilia

The curator at the opening reception, March 9, 2018. Photo courtesy of Kat Overton

The curator at the opening reception, March 9, 2018. Photo courtesy of Kat Overton

After being accepted into the Museology program at the University of Washington, I began thinking about what my focus in the program could potentially be and what really gets me excited about working in museums. I knew that I wanted to focus on building my curatorial skills. I was very interested in curating my own exhibition, as I had been able to do through a Summer Research Grant at my undergraduate institution. Fortunately, such an opportunity exists within our program. When faculty member Wilson O’Donnell first told us about the Emerging Curator Initiative (ECI) during orientation, I knew right away that I was going to take it during the winter of my first year.

During the ECI class with Wilson and affiliate faculty Katie Buckingham, I thought about what might be a relevant topic for visitors to the Kirkland Arts Center (KAC), the annual host of the ECI project, and also related to the experience of living in the Pacific Northwest.

Visitors enjoy the art at the opening reception. Photo courtesy of Kat Overton

Visitors enjoy the art at the opening reception. Photo courtesy of Kat Overton

Katie gave our class excellent advice, which was to make a list of 50 or 100 “Big Ideas” that could potentially become exhibition concepts. I made this list, but my first idea was my best and favorite idea: the idea of sense of place, and how artists are able to express their memories and experience of places in their artwork. My inspiration for this idea originated from my undergraduate studies in Anthropology and Geography, as well as my experience as a Seattle transplant who considers multiple places across the country to be home.  

In March of 2016, I was notified that KAC had chosen my proposal and my concept as the exhibition they wanted to move forward with. I was psyched! I had felt that my proposal was strong, and had received good feedback from Wilson and Katie, so it was extremely rewarding to find out that KAC agreed with my own estimation of my work. I began the process of finding art, of which my biggest problem was that there were too many great options! I eventually narrowed my selections down to 16 artists and 31 pieces. Finding the art was one of the most fun aspects of the project; I explored the websites of many local galleries and artists, and visited lots of galleries during First Thursdays, Seattle’s monthly event when many museums and galleries are free to the public.

Visitors enjoy the art at the opening reception. Photo courtesy of Kat Overton

Visitors enjoy the art at the opening reception. Photo courtesy of Kat Overton

In the entire process of my exhibition, from finding art to communicating with artists, to picking up and installing the art, I was so incredibly lucky in that everything went remarkably smoothly. All my coordinating and emailing and planning and making of spreadsheets paid off in the final exhibition. The opening reception was wonderful; so many of my friends, both from the program and outside of school, attended to support me, as did many artists, gallery representatives, and community members. I was even able to Skype my parents in from North Carolina! I was definitely not using emotion for dramatic effect when I got choked up during my introduction and thank you speech; it was so incredibly moving to see so many people in the room who believed in my talents and abilities and gave me the opportunity to put on such a lovely show, and supported me unequivocally throughout the entire process. I don’t know much about similar offerings in other museum studies graduate programs, but I can say that the ECI experience was extraordinary, and something I will never forget as I graduate and begin my career.