John G. Hampton: Artist and programming director at Trinity Square Video

I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Regina in visual art, which combined studio art and cultural studies,.

I got my undergraduate degree at the University of Regina in visual art, which combined studio art and cultural studies, and I did my first diploma at New Media Campus in Regina in 3D animation and game design.

I’m in my last few weeks of my masters in visual studies and curatorial studies at the University of Toronto. The program divides the curriculum between curatorial studies and studio art. I entered it primarily because I was trying to decide which career to pursue and thought it would give me an education that worked with both.

Curator is a strange profession. This program is as close to a professional degree as you can get for curatorial practice. It’s somewhat similar to doing an MFA for an artist. There are opportunities for students to curate exhibitions as they’re going along. Last year I curated a screening of undergrad video work for an annual exchange with an institute in Stuttgart, Germany.

What I do at Trinity Square Video is in some ways an extension of my education. I do practical, everyday, nitty-gritty things like paperwork. I’m managing artists with galleries, drafting budgets and working with the board – activities you don’t necessarily do in a university setting. I’ve always thought it’s extremely important in contemporary art to supplement your education with other types of activities.

There’s a perception that the curator’s job is very glamorous and just involves selecting the artists and that’s about it, but a lot of unglamorous paperwork and administrative are activities are involved. You’re a creative administrator, but it’s similar to any other institutional position: writing grants, arranging shipping and dealing with customs. If you’re in a smaller gallery, you’re mopping the floors and keeping the doors open.

The program helps with the intellectual aspects of being a curator. A big part of the job is framing contemporary artwork through writing and how you speak about it. The university is well suited to train you for that. Access to the various departments at the University of Toronto – the program is interdisciplinary – means you can seek out the types of advisers you need. I’m taking classes in the philosophy department and in museum studies to gain administrative-type skills.

While doing my masters, a strange thing has happened. I’ve become less reliant on academic-style writing, which is, I think, the reverse of how most people experience it. It’s been really great for helping me to simplify my language and communicate more clearly with audiences.

Careful, thoughtful people make the best curators – people who are good at listening to artists, the public and the galleries they’re working for. A lot of the job is about being a mediator between these different forces and ensuring that the best exhibitions happen that can please as many people involved as possible – the artist above all.

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