After a morning lecture introducing a range of our projects to the 11 participants of Curating Lab 2014, we proposed a challenging exercise: to define a succinct "about us" paragraph for three imaginary institutions. (Named after the first three Pacific hurricanes of the 2014 season, no less.) Following the root of word "institution" (to establish, to set up), the task was not an architectural challenge nor a branding exercise, but one that first asked what practices are imagined to be initiated, how programmes are established and for whom are they set up.
Participants took into account the parameters we described for each of three art-institution typologies – a residency/studio programme; an annual festival and a commissioning body. After a one-hour brainstorm within each group, participants came up with a paragraph that concisely communicated the "vision and values" of the new entities, responding to "what we do, how do we do it and why we do it that way".
The task wasn't oriented towards building a "business plan", though an integral part involved consideration of funding models, and who or what has a stake in the imagined organisation – city/state, philanthropists/donors, users/members/tickets, prizes/open calls, etc. We didn't expect job descriptions, but participants were encouraged to consider what kind of roles the staff within the imaginary institution might take up – would it have a core full-time team or occasional collaborators? What skills or roles would be taken up across curating, producing, publishing, researching, hosting, leadership, and so on?
The exercise was not to come up with a pitch to potential supporters (i.e. in future tense), but to exercise imagination in the present and to define what an organisation stands for and actually does in a succinct way. The aim was to think holistically about their "pet" organisation, its different programme strands and its relation to its local/international network.
1. CRISTINA – A residency/studio programme
"Cristina provides residential, and studio facilities for national and international artists. It is based in several live/work spaces and as yet undefined rooms in a former school building in a small town on a remote island in an area of outstanding natural beauty. It is a day's travel to the nearest city. The local community of 800 people are mostly involved in fishing and farming."
2. AMANDA – An annual festival
"Amanda is an event-based format and is based in a major densely-populated prosperous city with a strong corporate and media culture as well as several world-renowned museums, contemporary art centres and universities. The events take place in a specific block of time and involve organised, extended presentations and places for viewing them."
3. BORIS – A commissioning body
"Boris invites artists to make temporary artworks in public spaces and locations that are not galleries or museums. It is based in a provincial port city that used to have a thriving economy based on heavy industry. The city is suffering from high unemployment, there are many abandoned buildings and wastelands."