Views of the Himalaya – A Curator’s First Steps

Upon entering the vast unknown of the non profit world – I quickly realized how I wanted to do things differently.  I didn’t want to just raise money, I wanted to tell stories and connect communities together.   I didn’t want someone to just donate money and forget about it.  Or worse, not really understand where their money was going.  I wanted to them to care about the communities we were raising money for.  To care what happened to people on the other side of the world.  To understand that while they have a different face, language, culture, and religion – they want the same things for their children that we do here at home.

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

I chose photography to be the medium to create the story around our year two partner, the dZi Foundation.  Unwittingly, casting myself in the role of curator-in-training.

In four short, fast, months I enlisted the help of a local photographer and documentary filmmaker to help me reach out to photographers I wanted in the show and to develop a critical opinion of the pieces we found that seemed appropriate.  We set a high bar for the quality of the show, never considering that we wouldn’t get the artists we searched out.

Lessons learned:

1.  Photographers live hectic lives, are hard to pin down, and are asked a lot to donate work for shows or good causes.  Keep it simple and inexpensive for them to be involved.

2.  At the same time, almost every photographer saw the value of what we doing and wanted to be part of creating the story of this diverse and colorful region.

3.  Producing a show is expensive!

4.  Traveling show is even more expensive.  I shipped ‘Views’ out to Los Angeles for its second gallery show.  A month later, I flew out myself one way, rented a car, and drove the show back to Colorado for a third of the shipping cost.

5.  Trust your gut.  And your eye.   I knew immediately what I liked or didn’t like even if I didn’t have the words yet to express why.  90% my initial reaction was the right one.

6.  Find artists you trust and ask their opinions to help hone your eye,  create your verbage, debate your decisions, and develop your overall view of the show as a cohesive story.

7.  You can publish your own exhibit book.  Blurb.com rocks!   No design fees, no minimum orders, and you get a ISBN number and link so that people can view and buy your book online!

8.  Many galleries book a year out and many have submission guidelines and dates.  If galleries are booked, get creative.  We have shown the ‘Views’ show in a variety of venues.  The American Mountaineering Museum, as the first show at a new gallery in LA, and a movie theater with a formal gallery attached to its lobby.

9.  .  Don’t forget the purpose of the show beyond storytelling is fundraising.

The unexpected lesson is that the ‘Views’ show connected me intimately with people that had only been on my periphery.   We ran in different circles, some in different cities, our busy lives preventing any real connection.  They are deep and talented individuals that gracefully allowed me to be ignorant, helped me develop my ‘curator’s eye’, shared their experiences, and gave me their enduring support.

I’m so grateful for that blissful twist!

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