The Emerging Curators Platform Supports Artistic Inclusivity in Delaware

An innovative program created by Delaware Art Museum and John William Gallery teaches college students how to curate inclusive exhibitions.

The morning sunlight shines bright and clear on the massive stone clock face that adorns the front of 1313 N. Market St. The building’s former moniker, HERCULES, is carved into the granite beneath the clock. Amid the greenery in front of the structure, a large stone fountain gurgles gently. Its three marble spheres rotate in place as water cascades from their surfaces, rendered perfectly smooth from decades of motion.

Indoors, an expansive atrium stretches stories into the air. Light pours in from several windows, illuminating the three enormous paintings hovering above the space. These paintings, filled with colorful, energetic abstractions, were created by Delaware native Monique Rollins, artist and owner of the John William Gallery.

Soon, her paintings will be joined by other works curated by one lucky University of Delaware (UD) student chosen for the Emerging Curators Platform, a new program created by the gallery and Delaware Art Museum (DelArt). The program runs concurrent with the University of Delaware school year and lasts one academic year per student, starting in late August.

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DelArt’s chief curator and curator of contemporary art, Margaret Winslow, will serve as mentor as the student gains crucial curatorial experience. “Margaret is a really talented, special person,” Rollins says. “She’s extremely professional, thoughtful and collaborative. …She’s really the beating heart behind the Delaware Art Museum.”

Winslow chooses the student mentee, who must be enrolled in UD’s Museum Studies or Art History program and who applies with recommendations from professors. The program seeks to uplift historically underrepresented people in the museum field, such as those from diverse racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and LGBTQIA+ voices. The emerging curator does not need to be enrolled in a master’s program to apply.

Ola Rondiak’s recent exhibition, Overcoming—held by John William Gallery at 1313 N. Market St.—explores how familial stories are intrinsically woven into the fabric of her life and work. The stories gleaned from her ancestral lineage reflect periods of angst and struggle, but also of resilience and strength. Informed by Ukrainian culture, the artist’s imagery entwines symbols of hope and solidarity as a means to commemorate a culture whose history continues to overcome all odds. Curator Margaret Winslow remarked that Rondiak “elicits a kind of bodily empathy, an understanding of the physical reality of existing in conflict.” Here, Winslow (right), chief curator and curator of contemporary art at Delaware Art Museum, discusses the exhibition with Jillian Pini, an emerging curator from University of Delaware.
Ola Rondiak’s recent exhibition, Overcoming—held by John William Gallery at 1313 N. Market St.—explores how familial stories are intrinsically woven into the fabric of her life and work. The stories gleaned from her ancestral lineage reflect periods of angst and struggle, but also of resilience and strength. Informed by Ukrainian culture, the artist’s imagery entwines symbols of hope and solidarity as a means to commemorate a culture whose history continues to overcome all odds. Curator Margaret Winslow remarked that Rondiak “elicits a kind of bodily empathy, an understanding of the physical reality of existing in conflict.” Here, Winslow (right), chief curator and curator of contemporary art at Delaware Art Museum, discusses the exhibition with Jillian Pini, an emerging curator from University of Delaware.

Throughout the program, the student will execute three exhibitions conceived the previous year by their predecessor. At the same time, they prepare three exhibitions for the next year’s curatorial student. This allows emerging curators the time to produce and prepare exhibitions, as well as execute their own curatorial ideas. All exhibited works will be from Delaware artists.

The experience will include studio visits with local artists, developing the conceptual framework for exhibitions, identifying works to be exhibited, writing about the works, describing the scope of the exhibition, laying out the art in the atrium and more, Winslow says.

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Scott Johnson, a member of the partnership that owns 1313 N. Market St., says he’s proud to facilitate the program through use of the atrium. “It’s something that’s easy for us to accommodate, because [Rollins] is taking all her expertise and applying it to the program,” Johnson says.

A longtime supporter of the arts in Wilmington, Johnson met Rollins years ago when he began collecting her artwork. After hearing about the Emerging Curators Platform, Johnson decided to offer up the atrium space for the endeavor. “He gives everything he has to the city of Wilmington. …He really has a respect for art and culture that I’ve seen very rarely, and a love for his community,” Rollins says.

We want to do Delaware spaces, Delaware artists and all historically underrepresented communities in Delaware. They need to be exhibited and shown.
—Monique Rollins, owner, John William Gallery

For her part, Winslow will offer lessons in the art of curation, from practical skills such as exhibition planning and art writing to more abstract skills, such as how to center the needs of the local community when planning an art exhibition and amplifying voices that have been underrepresented in art galleries and museums in Delaware.

Winslow says it’s important for emerging curators to consider questions like, “What does authentic and respectful engagement look like with community members? How do you identify those voices that have been quieted?”

“We want to do Delaware space, Delaware artists and all historically underrepresented communities in Delaware. They need to be exhibited and shown. They’re valid, good artists and they need a platform,” says Rollins, who sells her own work to fund the platform. “We’re thrilled to show these artists…and to have upcoming art lovers nurture these young students. It won’t be stuffy like a museum. It can be very fresh and contemporary, like what’s really happening now in art in Delaware.”

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Rollins will be assisted by Kathrine Page, the director of creative programs at the John William Gallery and a former Delaware Contemporary curator herself.

So, why is curation such an important skill? “The curator is the one that understands what’s happening in the world at that time. They understand the context of why the art’s being made, where it fits into the moment in history, what it’s saying about contemporary culture and society,” Rollins explains.

Winslow says their goal is to engage with the unique local artistic and creative landscape. “It means working closely and engaging deeply with the artists who are living and working in the greater Wilmington and Delaware region, surveying those artistic trends and cultural responses that we are having, and then contextualizing those endeavors with what is happening on a national and global stage,” she explains.

A thoughtfully curated exhibition can have a profound emotional and mental impact on viewers, both Rollins and Winslow point out. Curators can draw parallels between different time periods and artistic movements, highlighting fascinating historical and social patterns in the process. An exhibit can also help viewers empathize with others.

“What I like to see is when you’re experiencing someone’s story through their artwork. …Exhibitions share so much between people, between groups, because of that authentic communication that maybe might be hard to say with words between people,” Rollins says.

“Words might make other feelings come into play, or other barriers go up, but the kind of pure communication that visual art statements can make, it’s very moving and very relevant in sharing their story, and in our responsibility to be receptive and understand other peoples’ stories.”

The program recently selected Jillian Pini as its first emerging curator. A Newark native earning her master’s in art history, Pini grew up appreciating art at the plethora of nearby museums. As a working artist herself, she brings a certain insight to curation. “I feel real passion for the effect that museums can have on people, especially art museums, and I want to be a part of putting together the best experience for the viewer,” Pini says.

The program aims to make a career in curation more attainable. “When I was thinking about my future and about curating, it’s really intimidating to get into it because you need a lot of experience before you’re even curating on your own,” Pini says. “So, to have an experience like this, where I will be directly helping curate an exhibition, is truly amazing. I feel really lucky to be in this position. …I hope that it’s successful, and I hope that other students get this opportunity, because it’s a great way to start off a career.”

Jillian Pini (below, right) is the first UD senior chosen for a new curatorial program, a partnership between the John William Gallery, DelArt and Scott Johnson, which teaches aspiring curators the art of the job.
Jillian Pini (right) is the first UD senior chosen for a new curatorial program, a partnership between the John William Gallery, DelArt and Scott Johnson, which teaches aspiring curators the art of the job.

Rollins and Winslow agree that opportunities like this are hard to come by. “I would have loved to have had something like this when I was an aspiring artist,” Rollins says. “It would’ve been wonderful to have a place like this to go and to hear relevant art dialogue and learn and be able to participate without having to go to Philly, New York or D.C.”

This month, Pini will curate her first exhibition in the atrium. Admission is free, and the public is encouraged to support this new program by attending and enjoying the Delaware-based artworks on display. The reception takes place Friday, October 6, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. during the monthly Wilmington Art Loop. The exhibition, Glitches, showcases new work by Reginald Fludd and runs until December 28.

Rollins and Winslow hope to welcome multiple emerging curators simultaneously in the future. “I am excited to see how this program expands, and I am going to remain incredibly hopeful that there will be more opportunities for more emerging curators in the future, and, of course, all of the artists whose work is being exhibited as part of the program,” Winslow says. “Come participate and amplify if you are so moved.”

Our Best of Delaware Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!

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