Career pathways: Lead Curator (Art)

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Q. Who are you?
My name’s Tim Craven and I current title is Lead Curator (Art).
Q. What does your job involve?
I look after the art collection here, and I’m the expert on the art collection, basically, which comprises 3,500 works of art, which span eight centuries, from the 14th Century to the present day, so it’s quite a lot of objects. Most of my time is actually spent giving information to people who want to know about what we have here, who want images, the want information about the artists and the works of art, they want to come and see them, and I have to respond to that as a public servant. so you never quite know from day to day how much of your time will be spent on giving information. I also help with displays and exhibitions in a previous life here I ran the gallery so I was doing that anyway. I’m also looking to build on the collection, so that means researching, looking for art, and making applications for grants, and trying to purchase new works – also looking at works which other parties or private collectors want to give or bequeath to the collection, so it’s a growing collection the whole time.┬
Q. Why is it important to engage young people?
We know we are sowing seeds here. It’s very difficult data to capture, but I’ve talked to countless celebrated artists who came to places like this, indeed, to places like Southampton itself and that inspired them to become what they are today. Grab ‘em young, I say, the more young folk we have in the gallery the better. We have thousands of school age children coming on organised visits. So we know we’re sowing seeds, and I delight to to bring them down here to show them works, and talk about what they’re about and why they’re made, to make those sort of links really. Art changes lives, I know that, it’s changed my life, it’s changed all sorts of other people’s lives, and it has to have the capacity to do that. You mentioned music earlier on, you know, visual arts is just one form of the arts, there’s music, drama, the visual arts, literature, it all has that effect, and in fact most of our waking hours is spent thinking about how we’re going to spend our off-duty hours in a cultural way. Are you going to watch TV, see a film or read a book, art, art is central, the arts are central to us as civilized beings, it’s very, very important.┬
Q. What was your career path?
I went to do some voluntary work at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the very first day there I knew I’d discovered my life and I was really inspired and did an MA course, a postgraduate course in paintings conservation up in the north of England, and got my first job down here in 1980 as assistant conservation officer, and then in 1985 I became conservation officer, in 1990 I became collections manager, not doing conservation, sadly, moved up to management, and then I moved up to being curator of the gallery, so I ran the gallery for 6 and a half years. In the latest reorganisation I stayed as close as I could to the art collection, and I’m now lead curator for art.
Q. What’s good about your job?
Working close up with this collection is an astonishingly privileged stimulus to me. I’m a practicing artist as well, I still paint and draw everyday. So as an artist looking at these objects you have all these influences pinging at you all the time, which is quite tricky sometimes, but it’s endlessly stimulating, and I meet artists. I was very privileged to sit next to Bridget Riley last week, because Birmingham is having a Bridget Riley show in the autumn. What you can learn from these people ┬áis mind-boggling, really, and very humbling. So not only talking to contemporary artists alive today about how, and why, they’re doing what they do, but also talking to art historians. I get experts coming here to look at our collection. We have an international reputation, we send work all over the world. I had a curator from Rome last month coming to look at our collection last month. So I pinch nuggets off them, and I’ve probably forgotten more than I know now about details about the works that we hold here.
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