Karen McQuaid


Earlier in the year, the university was visited by Karen McQuaid, the senior curator at the Photographer’s Gallery for 14 years. She began interested in magazines, and so realized to get experience in this career path she gained internships starting at Surface Magazine in San Francisco and then moving to Tank Magazine.
   McQuaid has a degree in Fashion Communication and aimed to be a fashion editor, a clear example of how a career path can constantly change and have different trajectories. One quote she said during her talk that stuck out was “your career will not be ones steady incline of ever increasing successes.” Karen then went on to talk about the lessons she has learned from her experiences. 

   Lesson one was about confidence, how you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help or be afraid or embarrassed. For example, if you don’t know an artist who is brought up in conversation, don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know them. It would be impossible for someone to know every artist as she said: “No one’s frame of reference is complete.” This was really encouraging to hear as I am very aware of how my fear constricts me a lot and there was a relief that it happens to everyone, including big curators. 
    Lesson Two focused on jobs that you may not feel ready for. A lot of the time when a great opportunity presents itself, you may not feel prepared and there will be a doubt that creeps in and you may instinctively want to say no out of fear. Again, a concept I am very aware that I would be one of the people to say no, but when that doubt starts to settle, remember that the person who offered you or suggested the opportunity to you, picked you for a reason and that you should then “take your confidence in their trust”. Trust they know best even when you don’t know yourself.
  Lesson three was shorter but still as important, “Lift up the phone never underestimate the power of voice to voice”. There is a shared fear that a lot of people my age do not like picking up the phone to an unknown number or calling people, and I am definitely in that group but I begin to realize how important a phone call or in-person meeting can be. 

   Lesson Four came purely from the experience of being a curator and was advice for people who wanted to follow in the same direction, however, I felt the advice was applicable for everyone.  “If you are making a huge saving you must ask yourself what is being sacrificed.” and that you should question if you are spending the right amount of time for everything, not prioritizing one and forgetting other areas. Which applies to a lot, for example, she’s talking about the details that go into a gallery show, but if you have a lot on your plate with work, focus on the balance of each element and don’t forget other parts. 

Lesson five was in reference to Lorenzo Vitturi, an artist that McQuaid had to convince multiple time to get in her gallery as the way Vitturi was working at the time wasn’t the most exciting or obvious choice and so said ‘Sometimes the least sensational ideas are the hardest to sell.” And personally I am so glad she did, as the Vitturi exhibition was one of the first galleries I went to once I had got into photography and I have never seen an exhibition liked it since then and I remember feeling truly inspired once I had left from the bright colours and massive displays, it was definitely something extraordinary and something I had to thank McQuaid for before you left for creating such an incredible space. 
 Lesson Six was a really hopeful story, as McQuaid told us that “When opportunities come your way – find ways to share the success; use independent businesses, printers, and suppliers where you can.” as well as “Be loyal, use each other, and your peers, share the work and opportunities – fight to use emerging designers, smaller suppliers.” It was a great example of artists supporting artists especially in London where accessibility is so easy, and choosing the little guys is such a positive use of an opportunity. One quote that was especially poignant ‘Become a person to brings your peers with you, and generous to the people underneath you.’ and that’s a lesson I hope to carry with me for a long time now. 
 Lesson seven followed similar lines to the previous about being a caring member of an often brutal art society. “Your labor in a project isn’t always where you anticipate it being. Sometimes your job is to make the space/opportunity for others and support from the sidelines.” It’s been clear when working with such a close-knit year group that we should work together and I hope I am not the only one from my year to feel that. 

Lesson eight was direct from curating experience but emphasized the point of planning and the unruly nature of life. “Analogue technologies: can be like open heart surgery. Always think about duration and interaction when planning/invigilation. Installations do not freeze in time on opening.” The nature of humans is clearly chaotic and that does not end in an exhibition space and so always be prepared for the logistics of human nature. 

And the final lesson, “Digital technologies: upkeep/troubleshooting no less time consuming potential handshake issues, every bit of hardware has its own peculiarities to learn.” This is just straight forward advice about how technology has its own rules sometimes, and investing the time will pay off in the long run. 
McQuaid’s lecture was really insightful, and honest. It was refreshing to have someone talk about important, and relevant issues in the world my peers and myself are about to head into. 



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