Dr. Shirley L. Thomson Young Curators Award

This award is given to a Canadian museum or an art gallery to offer internships for young graduates that enhance learning experiences for curatorial careers in the visual arts.

Halifax’s Young Curator: A BIPOC Curatorial Internship at the MSVU Art Gallery, with support from Dalhousie Art Gallery and St. Mary’s University Art Gallery at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery

The new curatorial internship at three Halifax universities was designed to address familiar challenges, and then it ran into a wholly unprecedented hurdle — the shutdown of galleries by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first year of the one-year internship for young curators who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour got off to a later start than planned when the public-health lockdown began, but the inaugural candidate — Liuba González de Armas — is in Halifax and working on projects at Mount St. Vincent University Art Gallery, St. Mary’s University Art Gallery and Dalhousie University Art Gallery.

“The pandemic is kind of a benefit, because they will come out of it having experienced the biggest challenge that we have faced collectively,” says Laura Ritchie, director of the Mount St. Vincent gallery. “Everyone right now has to learn how to run a museum and engage the community online, right? We’re all doing it. So the interns are getting to work through those complex programs with us.”

The program is firstly designed to improve opportunity for young arts graduates in groups that have been historically disenfranchised.

“Often the entry points we create are accessible to those already privileged,” Ritchie says. “This internship, we hope, will contribute to the access that folks who are Black or Indigenous or persons of colour have to curatorial opportunities within institutions, and then subsequently to those management and artistic director positions.”

Liuba González de Armas, Halifax’s Young Curator intern

De Armas is a Cuban-born Montreal resident with a MA in Art History from McGill University. She was interested in Halifax’s immigration role as a trans-Atlantic port, as well as practice in the city around activism and print making. She’s working on projects for all three galleries, including a contemporary art exhibition that will focus on “staying at home in the time of crisis” for Mount St. Vincent.

Ritchie says that “any experience is good experience provided it’s a safe and healthy context,” but because internships are typically designed around the needs of the institution interns can miss “the opportunity to exercise autonomy or authorship.” They may get to work on great projects, “but they may not get the opportunity of starting on an idea and seeing it through, and I think that kind of practise is one thing that we need to help young museum professionals get.”

By collaborating with other galleries, Ritchie says, “we could narrow the focus of the work and multiply the opportunity to practise that work.” The collaboration “offers the opportunity for the curatorial intern to actually practise curatorial techniques and to be engaged with by multiple mentors, so not just one perspective.”

It’s a model for smaller galleries in how to pool their resources to meet their own needs, while giving the best educational experience for the intern.