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Featured Curator: Alice Bradshaw

This month's featured curator is Alice Bradshaw, a freelance curator and artist based in the North of England. As a prolific maker and organiser, she regularly exhibits, both nationally and internationally, for exhibitions, fairs and festivals as far afield as Stockholm, Melbourne and Toronto.

As a big exponent of DIY ethics and participatory practice, she strives to create exhibitions which are both critical and inclusive. Her most recent research project focus on the theme of Rubbish.

Which organisations do you curate for?

I mostly work in artist-led collaborations that involve curation, but I also curate for institutions as well. I'm co-founding director of Contents May Vary with Richard Shields, which started when we were at Manchester Metropolitan University together, in 2004.

I co-directed Temporary Art Space with Bob Milner, Tom Senior, Georgia Boniface and Kevin Boniface in 2009 and continued working with Bob co-curating various projects including Westgate Studios Project Space (2011-2012) and Beermat Show (touring) which inaugurated at Temporary Art Space.

I also co-directed Fundada Artists' Film Festival with Nancy Porter (2010-2011) and curate with Vanessa Haley on exhibitions and festivals such as Holmfirth Arts festival (2011-2012), Hannah Festival (2013) and Hebden Bridge Arts Festival (2013). I've also worked as guest curator for East Street Arts, The Hepworth Wakefield and now AdEx.

When did you start curating and why?

I first began my curatorial practice (alongside my object-based art practice) with Contents May Vary whilst at university. We formed the collective and organised exhibitions to show our own work alongside invited artists. It was a pragmatic, DIY approach to get our work seen in the absence of any fruitful links with galleries. 

Our first exhibition was DIVE; a large group show in 2004 at Manchester Victoria Baths - a semi-derelict, disused Edwardian swimming pool in the early stages of restoration. The building was so impressive that it commanded a response through the work, and this site-responsivity continued to be a major part of our collective interest.

We went on to organise and curate exhibitions in various alternative spaces: from vans, black cabs and narrow boats to city offices, car parks and pubs.

Tell us about your most recent project

I was invited by Jack at AdEx to be their first guest curator for their online gallery space and we discussed our common research topic of rubbish. The brief I set invites artists to contribute to a gallery of rubbish from practice. It asks for an image of an item of rubbish from the artist's practice along with a short Q&A to be featured online alongside the image.

What has been your favourite project to work on?

I have a tendency to throw myself in at the deep end and learn a lot through the process which I find incredibly rewarding. I've been lucky to work with several like-minded artists who share interests and enthusiasm so as we work through a curatorial challenge together it's a really enjoyable experience; it doesn't seem like work.

What is your approach to working with artists/collections?

I'm a big fan of the open call format as it reaches people you don't previously know who might have ideas perfect for the curatorial brief and it broadens your horizons. In collaborating on curatorial briefs it tends to be within my existing peer network or by invite where a common interest and approach is identified.

How do you engage the audience with your exhibitions?

Many works I curate are participatory by nature, but artists' talks and events like pub quizzes are also great additions to the exhibition/festival programme. I find talking to visitors is the best way to gauge opinion and engage the audience in the dialogue.

What was the last exhibition you visited?

My son Toby keeps a record of all the shows we go to on his blog.

Tell us about a curator whose work you admire and why

I have a lot of respect for Lisa le Feuvre, Head of Sculptural Studies at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. There's been a noticeable shift since she's been there and I like what I see. Also I came across James Putnam's work recently and like his approach to working with artists. They both seem to be great at working within institutions without becoming the institution.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start curating?

DIY is the way forward. Collaborate and pool resources. Take risks, but be organised too. Respect artists and pay them properly but if you're all working for free that's ok too in my book, especially if you're just starting out. Dialogue it so important - keep the conversations flowing. Enjoy it - make sure it's fun.

What's next?

I've just published a rubbish newspaper which is the culmination of my research into artists working with rubbish. I'm taking that to Supermarket Art Fair in Stockholm with Paper Gallery and copies will also be available at my upcoming solo show in Blackpool which is opening on 14th March.

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