A dear friend of mine works as a community organizer. In articulating how to approach the tremendous responsibility of the position, a community organizer is encouraged to adopt the following stance:

  1. Live an Examined Life: To have reflected on their story and the public context of it as it relates to power, community, hope and struggle.
  2. Live a Relational Life: To be interested in and curious about the stories and capacities of the other, no matter how similar or different they may be.
  3. Live a Life with Solitude: To be disciplined about taking time to reflect, to be silent and imaginative.
  4. Live an Obligated Life: To have a vested interested in the struggles of the people you are organizing with, to see clear personal benefits from the results of organizing.

It strikes me that these four principles would be useful to any position one takes on, really, but in particular make a powerful set of guidelines for curatorial practice as I imagine it.


4 thoughts on “

  1. A further excerpt:

    “They [community organizers] must be able to identify, connect with and relate to a wide range of leaders, and with an even wider range of traditions, experiences, interests and opinions. This requires courage, curiosity, motivation and ambition.

    “They must be able understand themselves and their own stories through reflection and mentorship in order to relate to the leaders they are trying to organize. They must know who they are and what they offer the cause of the common good. This requires discipline and an openness to mentorship.

    “They must be able to listen radically to others and integrate those stories of struggle, hope and action into a web of relational power, into a new vision of how our people and communities can transform and grow. This requires imagination and creativity.

    “They must have an ego that allows them to lead, to move, to shake, to create and an ego that allows them to stand back and let leaders lead and then to help them reflect, learn and grow as public people.

    “They must be predominantly interested in the development of people and their institutions and communities.”

  2. Hey Cheyanne – I really like this list as a potential guide for curatorial practice. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the sort of local vs. global approaches to curating–as in, centering your curatorial work in one particular city/place, even if that work involves bringing in international artists vs. working in many different cities through residencies, etc. They’re certainly not mutually exclusive and both have their benefits, but I’m wondering how you see these principles possibly fitting in to that tension between local investment (which seems sorta like #4) and exposure to new places, people and ideas (sorta like #s 1 and 2)?

  3. In a mundane sort of way, I don’t know many people who are from the place where they are. I am from a small town in the north [this inevitably characterizes my understanding of how and why people move through the world] and getting the hell out of town was always imperative. Similarily, having lived in Vancouver, I knew only a small handful of people that were born and still lived there. Which is just to say that this tension between the local and global is something I see playing out all over the place. What does our history mean in these new contexts?

    Do you think there is some sort of core connection between the curatorial impulse and the need to understand yourself in different environments? I haven’t yet realized a curatorial project in Toronto, but I wonder if this new home of mine will affect my practice in a productive way? I can say, from only having been here for four months, that I feel softer and more empathetic when confronting ideas of nomadism. My own struggle to make sense of place feeds back into my perceptions of the world. Experiences of the world offer the potential for understanding and seeing in new ways, which as a curator is invaluable. However, as you point out, there has to be local investment. I like to think of this as affecting change in the individual. It is not enough to be a tourist. When we go out into the world, I believe it is our ethical obligation to be changed. It is our responsibility to synthesize experience into evolution.

  4. I definitely don’t mean to suggest that moving around, emigrating or otherwise relocating is bad. Like you, I know very few people who still live in the place they grew up (I certainly don’t) and I think that the exchange of ideas, practices and beliefs that happens with that movement of people is really productive, especially in the art and cultural worlds (in fact, I often wish there was more discussion, dialogue and exchange between Toronto and Vancouver, or Halifax and Toronto, than there currently is).

    I guess that after almost 4 years of living and (mostly) staying in Toronto while watching a lot of friends and colleagues head off to international schools and residencies, often back-to-back for years at a time, I’m wondering how those experiences change curatorial practice. What I like about the list of stances is that it gives you a framework for being invested in the places you visit and being open or vulnerable to being changed by them, but also acts as an imperative to be vested in the local developments that you might not be able to participate in in the long term, but to which you might provide insight. I like your addendum, especially, that it is an ethical imperative for each individual to be changed by our experiences “out in the world”.

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