Museology Master of Arts Program

June 17, 2019

Curating “Capability”: Taking Risks and Finding Voice Through the Emerging Curator Initiative (ECI)

Author: Maggie DeFranco, Class of 2019

Emerging Curator Maggie DeFranco (class of 2019)

Emerging Curator Maggie DeFranco (class of 2019)

I came into the Museology program as an assistant curator and educator. I also came into the Museology program as a person who was attempting to leave the community trauma of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting about 3,000 miles behind me. These two aspects of my life, the professional and the personal, were ones that I had attempted to keep separated as an undergraduate arts management student. As a graduate student, I had the opportunity through ECI to break down that barrier, and curate a risky exhibit about gun culture and gun violence that leveraged my own experience.

I took that opportunity even though it terrified me.

A good portion of the ECI class is dedicated to creating a “big idea” to center the exhibit that you will ultimately propose. I struggled with this portion. I found myself dancing around themes and ideas that would later feature in Capability but was scared to go to a place that was so personal and so political. Katie Buckingham encouraged me to play around with the idea. How would I know if I was “ready” to talk about gun violence if I didn’t even try?  

The most time-consuming, and the most rewarding, part of the curatorial process was picking artists and collaborating to create work. Every artist that I worked with has personal experience with gun culture or gun violence. I wanted them to be able to tell their own stories, unimpeded by my own thoughts and experiences. That was a difficult task to accomplish. In the end, about half of the work that was shown in Capability was created specifically for the show. All of the work showcases a vast array of themes connecting to gun culture. Some of the political opinions that were presented are ones that I agree with, and some of them are not. Balance was the key to curating a show that was fair and that told a story beyond my own. 

"Capability" at Kirkland Art Center.

“Capability” at Kirkland Art Center.Taken by Victoria Feeney ('19) at opening reception

In the end, curating Capability was a selfish venture of healing. Dealing with this topic has been difficult some days. Most days, if I’m being honest about it. Sometimes the world feels bleak and the circumstances that we are dealing with feel unchangeable. Everyday I worked on this project I was grateful, though. 

Curating through ECI is an empowering experience – one where I could make my voice heard, and more importantly, amplify the voices and the experiences of artists across King County and across the nation.      

Art has the wonderful power of bringing people together to spark difficult conversations. It has a staying power than lingers beyond the doors of a gallery. Art follows us into our homes, into our classrooms, and into our lives. It offers a safe space to speak about the things that haunt us. At the end of the day, one show about gun culture and gun violence is not going to change the landscape of a nation. But hey – it’s a start.