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Artistic Directors Forum 20 October 2020


Topic: Working with Artists


We would like to thank everyone who participated in our call:

  1. José Lebrero Stals, Artistic Director, Museo Picasso Malaga
  2. Robyn-Leigh Cedras-Tobin, Director, Rupert Museum
  3. Silvia Noguer, Trustee, Fundacio Suñol
  4. Cheryl Sim, Managing Director and Curator, PHI Foundation
  5. Naomi Potter, Director, Esker Foundation
  6. Antonella Camarda, Director, Museo Nivola
  7. Sietske van Zanten, Director, LAM
  8. Antony Hudek, Director, Museum Dhondt Dhaenens
  9. Claire Feeley, Head of Exhibitions and Audiences, Jupiter Artland
  10. Julia Höner, Artistic Director, KAI10 ARTHENA Foundation


These forums are so that everyone can get to know each other better and together we will build a strong network beneficial for all. Our role is to connect everyone and to listen and act accordingly. Listed below you will find the participants’ responses to the topic and question ‘How have you adapted your programme to best support artists?’

José Lebrero Stals, Artistic Director, Museo Picasso Málaga

José Lebrero Stals

Museo Picasso Málaga reopened to the public on Tuesday 26 May, more than two months after closing its doors as a result of the health crisis that we now know has seriously damaged the cultural sector worldwide and in particular the rationale and financial situation of museums. One of our key aims since the day we reopened has been to invest every effort into offering audiences a comfortable and safe experience when they visit our facilities, in line with the health regulations. We hope that by doing this we can help to debunk the dangerous collective fear that is taking root in society and leading to a considerable reduction in attendance at public events.

We are a monographic museum mainly dedicated to the study and dissemination of the work of Pablo Picasso and its historical context. Exhibiting and promoting contemporary art is not our mission, although in the past we have explored Picasso’s impact on the history of 20th-century art by organising monographic shows on artists such as Martin Kippenberger, Richard Prince, Louise Bourgeois and Bruce Nauman, and next January we will do the same with Miquel Barceló. Promoting emerging art is the primary task of other local institutions in Málaga.

At the moment, we have had to cut back on quantity. During this challenging and uncertain 2020 when we have had no option but to cancel or postpone several temporary exhibitions, our main strategy has been to:

– promote the possibilities of the novel presentation of the permanent collection in the Dialogues with Picasso programme, including the design and production of digital educational products and cultural debates, as well as publications about the study of Pablo Picasso and his work in partnership with universities and other museum institutions; and – organise a programme of interdisciplinary contents in the various museum spaces, including music, film, literature and fashion, with a special emphasis on local creators whose income has been severely impacted by the pandemic. During the summer, we offered 26 concerts, theatrical performances and participatory workshops.

From this month (October) until January 2021, the main galleries where we usually hold our temporary exhibitions will become an alternative cultural centre. We have turned our facilities into a plural, comfortable and safe space for workshops on spinning, engraving and pottery, and they will also host lectures, debates and talks with experts on a wide variety of topics ranging from art history to mathematics, offering participants an opportunity to share ideas and knowledge. Christened The Other Museum, it is a firm commitment to reasoning and artistic activity beyond the conventional formats in these times of crisis. We hope that during the course of the project our spaces will generate, implement and project innovative ideas about the contemporary identity of the museum. In our opinion, today social institutions of this type can play a role in generating creative culture, innovative partnerships and sharing experiences, knowledge expansion and connected teaching.

In our response to the unprecedented circumstances we are witnessing in this turbulent 21st century, we have turned the quintessential place where spectators engage with artworks – the exhibition gallery – into The Other Museum, a plural space for participation in which professionals and enthusiasts can create, converse, produce and discuss. We offer a dialogue between the five senses and spinning, engraving, pottery, fashion, poetry, music, design, film, photography, communication, digital marketing, entrepreneurship and new technologies through workshops, courses, seminars, conversations and presentations – in short, actions to underline the growing importance of the non-formal education that museums provide when they resist becoming just a mausoleum and commit to empathy and social harmony. We are permanent apprentices who are unwilling to resign ourselves to waiting for Godot.

Robyn Credas-Tobin, Director, Rupert Museum

Silvia Noguer, Trustee, Fundació Suñol

We have an important contemporary art collection of more than 1,300 artworks (here is link to the Collection). We incentivise art production through organising exhibitions and we aim to activate cultural activity in Barcelona. It has been a difficult year. We have established a digital programme, like many others.

We have just opened Everything Solid Fades Away In Three Acts is a three-part exhibition curated in collaboration with Valentín Roma and a combination of public programmes that aims to display what the lines of reasoning behind the Suñol Soler Collection are, and under which artistic and historical horizons the collection was created.

Along with two other online exhibitions branded short-cut Dionís Escorsa, The inside-out balcony and Julia Varela, 3’31”.

 Art at home is another programme online that was created during the confinement, to look, think, feel, experiment, know and enjoy the art of the Suñol Soler Collection from home and in groups. You can find it on our website in English.

Art a la Carta is an educational art project for classrooms which is originated from the Suñol Soler Collection. It consists of different modules to work in class inspired by contemporary art practices and procedures, which are formulated openly and autonomously and revolve around work or a theme present in our art collection. From the modules we offer, you can make a selection of what you are most interested in, creating your own route within our collection. You can also decide how much time you wish to dedicate to it and at what point of the course you wish to visit us and discover live the pieces that have led to the different initiatives. Order à la carte! Other projects include Diverse-Audiences.

We organise activities to generate spaces for encounter and exchange, as for contemporary creation, aimed at a plurality of audiences from a collective, creative, reflective and critical perspective.

We have an very unique contemporary art collection with limited space, so we hope to increase collaborations with other foundations and cultural institutions. Our collaborations can be found here collaborations

We have also launched a programme working with socially fragile groups, working with mental health groups and recently a new programme addressed to old age people who live in residential homes. This programme in an Introduction to Contemporary Art and has been extremely successful, and we will continue this work, contributing to society in a different way.

We are also launching an experimental project “ On Glass”  within our large glass used as a frame in the entrance of the Foundation, which can be seen from the street, then people will be able to see the artworks even when we are closed.

Cheryl Sim, Managing Director and Curator, PHI Foundation

Dedicated to bringing impactful experiences with contemporary art to the public, free of charge, with 2 to 3 exhibitions a year, with a public and robust education programme.

We are now in our second partial confinement and we are now closed until the end of October. This constraint has been filled with opportunity, we have joined forces with our sister cultural organisation PHI Centre a for-profit organisation.

We launched a residency programme, called Parallel Lines for 10 Montreal artists, working in a wide variety of disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches received a stipend and a production budget to make works in response to confinement for an online environment. We showcased their creative process (and by extension their larger practices) through weekly video posts, which we made available on a special microsite Parallel Lines, and also promoted their work on social media. As the results were so amazing, we are working with the artist to adapt their online work so that it can be presented within the physical space.

In conjunction with the Foundation’s current exhibition Relations: Diaspora and Painting which is a group show of 27 artists from Canada, the US and UK, going online was a blessing as on-line video conferencing tools allowed us to record individual interviews with 15 out of those 27 artists, and also allowed artists in different locations around the globe to participate in a set of panel discussions. 

Additional useful links Movements Family Kit 

We are also working on a series of video works, which can be screened by the public for one-week, multiple times for free. This also provides another opportunity for us to offer the artists fees for their work and is more convenient for viewers allowing for more eyeballs on these great works.

That said — something of equal importance is the Foundation’s dedication to mediation and empowering visitors to be at home with contemporary art — so a lot of our efforts have gone into maintaining a meaningful connection with them — including schools, universities and community groups so the team has figured out some really fun ways to move our visits, our workshops, a book club — all online in rigorous and playful ways.

So while confinement has been difficult in terms of folks coming in to see the show, we have been able to extend our reach and community. What that has shown us is that physical attendance does not have to be the primary metric for measuring engagement and that the ethos of a foundation can meaningfully transcend physical space.

Naomi Potter, Director, Esker Foundation

I would like to acknowledge that Esker Foundation is located on the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta, which includes the Siksika, the Piikuni, the Kainai, the Tsuut’ina, and the Iyarhe Nakoda First Nations. We are also situated on land adjacent to where the Bow River meets the Elbow River; the traditional Blackfoot name of this place is Mohkinstsis, which we now call the City of Calgary. The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III.

It is lovely to follow Cheryl from PHI Foundation as both of our models and what we do for the public are very similar – and as there are very few private art foundations in Canada it is nice to connect with all of you.

Esker Foundation opened in 2012 and one of the first challenges we had was to explain what a Foundation was. In Canada a foundation is generally understood as a grant-giving institution, so much of what we have done and continue to do is educate the public about what a private art foundation can be – so for me, it is exciting to be part of this larger network of art foundations.

Esker Foundation is housed within a purpose-built building. We are located on the 4th floor with a mix of creative and service business on other floors. This was a deliberate design, to provide a purpose-built gallery space, but also a revenue stream – so a portion of the revenue generated from the other leased spaces in the building supports our activities.  It is an interesting model, and one that has proven to be incredibly successful, however, the pandemic has caused many businesses to temporarily close creating concern over the future of our continued stability.

In terms of supporting artists at this time, we are not a collecting institution, so our focus has always been temporary contemporary art exhibitions and public programs. Our founders Jim and Susan Hill realised quickly that their collection, should it form the basis of ongoing exhibitions, would become stale over time. We present 3 main space exhibitions a year and as well as 3 small Project Space exhibitions – the Project Space is located at street level.

I have always been interested in how to be an institution, without becoming too institutional. For me, this has always been about putting artists first. By running an institution where artists are first means that their work and ideas are given priority, and by giving the public access to these ideas and work breaks down the barriers and the elitist stereotypes of Contemporary Art. Accessibility has always been key. It’s interesting around COVID, we have been able to be more expansive than ever before. We have a really robust public programme department, and now that we have transitioned to on-line programs, anyone with enough bandwidth can essentially join us. This has really made us rethink accessibility from not only a local perspective but on a larger global scale.

We have also launched a new programme called Permanent Collection, an online reading platform. For each season of exhibitions, we generally don’t provide a thematic umbrella but consider them independent, but in conversation. This puts the artist first allowing a deeper drive into each artist’s practice. Permanent Collection is a commissioned response to the exhibition, generally written, but we have also had a musical response, by someone either inside or outside the artistic field, connecting the work with a large context. Because we do not have a permeant collection, this creates a lasting document referencing the exhibitions and supports other creative industries surrounding visual arts.

In addition to our in-house exhibitions, we like to collaborate with other institutions or curators wherever possible. While we do have 3 curators at Esker, working with others is an appropriate way to address and expand our relatively small visual art knowledge. This January we are working with the Jordan D. Schnitzer Foundation in Portland Oregon, on a very significant exhibition of Louise Bourgeois prints and then in the Spring, we are hoping to be working with the PHI Foundation to bring a recent exhibition of theirs to Calgary.

We continually look for ways to support the local art community in Calgary. This is a small city, with a small visual arts community, so it is important for Esker to be a nurturing institution, one that supports and feeds, and is understood by a diversity of audiences and public that this is a resource that is always open and accessible.

Antonella Camarda, Director, Museo Nivola

It is great to feel connected with the rest of the world, especially when travel is limited –

Museo Nivola is a small museum dedicated to contemporary art, especially Costantino Nivola, who was an American artist but born here in Sardinia. We have a large monographic collection, with temporary exhibitions programme. We believe that the work of Nivola, his legacy, should be presented along with that of contemporary artists.

COVID was a real challenge for us as the island is very small and most of the connections aboard were cut off. We had to redesign our programme, with the museum closed for months we decided to cancel the planned exhibition. This did give us the opportunity to rethink our mission. We realised that artists on the island were not given any support from the government. In Italy, there was almost no support for the creative sector. We are also aware that contemporary artists on the island have a tough time in general because the market for their work is so small.

Even if we are not a collecting institution, we decided to collect and exhibit works from 27 young artists, who were either born in Sardinia or were living in Sardinia at the time. We acquired the works so that we could support them through the pandemic.

As soon as we were allowed, we opened the exhibition. It was a challenge to conduct a survey of what was being produced, in terms of visual art in Sardinia. It was also amazing because we discovered so many new things and we were also able to connect with different artists. Each artist also had to present a workshop for a maximum of 10 people. The opening had a great reception and we have many new local audiences. We have now decided to continue this programme of fostering young art.

It was a way to force us to look around us in a different way. We see ourselves as a social centre for the area and we provide an active programme of concerts, theatre and performance arts as well as activities for children and grownups. Focussing on the creative community on the island was a way to expand our activities and also a new way to let Nivola’s legacy be relevant in the present.

We carried on several web-based projects: something which is very interesting and worth to be pursued, but we also believe that the physical presence of the people can’t be replaced – it makes our mission count. We took a strong hit, like everyone, but we look at the future with hope and we will try to put the museum at the service of our communities.

Sietske van Zanten, Director, LAM

LAM is a young museum, founded by the VandenBroek Foundation, we opened in February 2019, so we have been operating with the COVID restriction, almost longer than without.

I work for the VandenBroek Foundation, which was founded in 2008, they have a focus on visual arts but also on music, it supports the Royal Orchestra Talent programme and it has a violin on loan for a young person and we support different arts organisations in the Netherlands. Including the De Ateliers, a post-academic place for artists for two years, where they can be guided by other artists.

The collection at LAM has only been acquired since 2010, the Museum itself was the starting point and we are still acquiring and commissioning today. The whole collection is focused on food and consumption.

The lockdown opened a way of engaging new public audiences online allowing us to form new relationships. We provided young artists who are within our collection the opportunity to produce new work online.

We also work together with art schools and support THIS Art Fair (A fair formed by the solo presentations of individual artists). We financially support artists who have graduated less than 6 years ago in their fair fee. We cover a percentage of the costs. 6 months before the fair they attend workshops on how to be an entrepreneur, pricing their work and storytelling. We also invite private collectors so they can see how their work is perceived, so that they can receive feedback.

We do many other things, although I feel these are a good representation of the support we provide young artists.

In addition, LAM has applied for a construction permit to build an additional building close to the museum, it will host four artists studios to be used as an artist in residence spot.

Antony Hudek, Director, Museum Dhondt Dhaenens

Museum Dhondt Dhaenens has a long and interesting history, founded in 1967 with a core collection from Flemish artists – Flemish modernists, amazing work and current research is regional. This year has been quite something – COVID plus a renovation project where we are about to close for a year. This situation put into question the direct line of support for artists. We normally host 3 to 6 exhibitions a year, not always with works from our collection. We have now suspended our exhibition programme. We are now looking at other ways to help artists. Support in Belgium has been slow for artists. Therefore, we felt obligated to artists, creatives and makers in the area.

Over the 6 months to a year, we are going to redesign the Museum from the ground up – taking the renovation as an opportunity to place artists within as many aspects of the institution as we can. I am keen to look into Board Development adding at least 1 or more artists, perhaps a graphic designer, and an architect, to help shift perceptions from the top down. We will have a new graphic identity and we have invited an artist from the committee to choose the design. We have also invited a local artist to join the Architectural Committee so that she can ask the questions which may not normally be thought of. It’s really important that as we renovate, we re-think the positioning of artists in the midst of what we do.

The re-opening is planned for next Sept/ Oct 2021.

Claire Feeley, Head of Exhibitions and Audiences, Jupiter Artland

When you think of Edinburgh, you may immediately think of the Fringe Festival, which sees millions of visitors, theatre-makers and artists take-over every public space and venue in our historic city. As one of the world’s longest-running and largest arts festival, we’re incredibly lucky to be part of the city’s creative life. Festivals, much like Biennials, rely on international travel and the mobility of both artists and audiences, with large-scale, blockbuster projects by internationally-renowned artists touring to major cities globally. Indeed, travel and tourism are often cited by the Biennale sectors as a reason to support arts and culture within our Creative Economies.

The events of the past six months have changed this landscape irrevocably. Although we can’t yet tell what the future has in store, for us at Jupiter Artland, this year has reconnected us with the power of the local in ways that have been transformative for the organisation. We’ve worked with artists living locally, giving them carte blanche to create commissions without a pre-determined outcome. This has resulted in artworks in public space, such as Saoirse Amira Anis’ Black Lives Matter mural and Peter Liversidge’s Sign Painting Workshop, where the artist hand-painted banners and placard for the public to parade with along city streets. These open-ended commissions have not just been about public spectacle – it also produced thoughtful, research-driven responses, such as Cinzia Mutigli’s powerful film ‘Sweet Wall’, which intertwined Scotland’s historic relationship with the slave trade with personal stories of addiction, trauma and recovery. As one of the few spaces able to remain open, by virtue of being largely outdoors, there is a real sense of Jupiter becoming a vital part of people’s everyday lives – a place to reconnect with nature, with art and with friends, family and loved ones. Given the truly shocking impact the pandemic is having on students, we’ve redoubled our commitment to those studying art, both this year and next. In haste, we were able to deliver a funded residency opportunity for five students this year, but next year, we’re looking to see how our sector can work together across the city to share our resources, spaces and networks to enable the next generation of artists to have the best possible start to their life in art. No more canceled degree shows!

Julia Höner, Artistic Director, KAI 10 Arthena Foundation

KAI 10 | Arthena Foundation has been showcasing contemporary art for over a decade. Founded in 2008 by entrepreneur Monika Schnetkamp, KAI 10 is located on the waterfront in a former warehouse from the 1950s that was once part of Düsseldorf’s local harbour. KAI 10 is a non-profit institution that operates without a collection of its own. Its focus is on thematic group shows, concentrating on contemporary art and visual culture at large, presenting three themed shows annually. Most of the exhibitions are accompanied by a publication and a programme of events, such as lectures, artists talks, and film programs. The exhibitions at KAI 10 revolve around current pressing questions and recent societal developments, along with fundamental queries, which are raised time and again, concerning artistic processes and media-inherent questions.

Thinking about what we do for artists, my answer is as simple as it is essential for the work of an exhibition space: in all of our activities, we put the artists first. This starts with our conception of curating, i.e., carefully interweaving artistic concepts with exhibition themes, where each plays a vital role in the development of an exhibition, to avoid ‘employing’ works of art as a mere mirror of curatorial ideas. Each show raises the question: how can a connecting theme or specific discourse resonate through the displayed works and also through the particular way they are staged in a given space. To this end, the artists have often been involved in the exhibition’s conception – some could even be seen as stage designers or staging directors.

More often than not, for the group shows, instead of presenting one work, each artist presents several. We profoundly believe that this plurality provides a more comprehensive insight into the artist’s aesthetic approach. We also believe that cross-generational and, of course, international presentations strengthen the artist’s work, tracing lines of continuity that link generations and continents as a way to highlight individual artistic approaches. We still believe in the importance of printed material and, depending on the exhibition budget, most of our exhibitions are accompanied by a catalogue. Our list of publications thus comprises 36 titles so far, each one as individual in design and content as in the exhibition’s theme.

As a foundation, the Covid pandemic has impacted us, but not as severely as our neighbouring public institutions. We were not, for example, forced to cancel exhibitions, but instead just postponed our programme. Even though we strongly believe in the importance of ‘in-situ’ experiences and direct encounters between art and the public in exhibition spaces, we opted to ‘design’ an online campaign that offers online art encounters. We promoted this digital movement when we had to close our exhibition this autumn, for the second time in 2020. Moreover, this campaign on Instagram is based on our institutional ethos, i.e., to put artists first: We gave the artists from our current exhibition the opportunity to talk about their work in short video clips. Additionally, we employed social media to strengthen international partnerships during the pandemic, creating a gesture of international solidarity and goodwill, especially with our campaign #HELLOFRIEND, which we launched earlier this year. We implemented this, together with three other local foundations from the “Rhineland Independent” group that we founded in 2019. #HELLOFRIEND was able to provide a space for our network of curators, artists, and writers from around the world, who spoke about what was on their mind, in terms of the pandemic, and how it affected their individual situation.

However, we have not forgotten about our visitors, who we think about constantly! Exhibition mediation is an important aspect of our work and, with our general policy of free admission during opening regular hours, we have been successfully building bridges between art and the public throughout the last decade.

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