Learning about the work of a curator

After learning about the role of a 'curator', children curate an exhibition of their own based on either a collection of their most recently created art works or an exhibition designed for aliens, showcasing examples of objects commonly found on planet Earth

Before the lesson

Have ready

  • Link: ‘Tate – art term ‘Curator’
  • Link: ‘Life of an art curator’ on VideoLink
  • Link: ‘Laing art gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne’
  • Exhibition objects (in the case of ‘random stuff’ – shells, stones, little plastic toys, buttons, rubbers, sharpeners, feathers), the more diverse the better
  • Display materials (black sugar paper/card, stands: small blocks of wood painted white if you have time, or books covered with fabric, any other materials that would be suitable for displaying objects)
  • Paper and pens for signage and descriptions
  • Blue/white tack
  • Camera or tablet with camera

Learning objective

  • To understand the role of a curator and to create an exhibit

National curriculum

Pupils should be taught to:

  • Produce creative work, exploring their ideas and recording their experiences
  • Evaluate and analyse creative works using the language of art, craft and design
  • Know about great artists, craft makers and designers, and understand the historical and cultural development of their art form 

Success criteria

  • I know that the role of a curator is to set up and manage collections of works of arts within museums and gallery spaces
  • I can work in a group to select and choose objects and create a collection or exhibition of them
  • I can connect this to a career in the creative and cultural industries

Cross-curricular links

English: Spoken Language

  • Listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers
  • Maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments
  • Use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas

Attention grabber

This lesson connects your pupils with the creative and cultural industries by looking at the role of a curator in a museum or a gallery.

It’s also going to require the children to work in a team and have discussions which lead to decision making as well as an opportunity to develop their presentation skills.

This is an active and fun activity and there should be a buzz in the classroom!

Ask children if they know who organises exhibitions at an art gallery or a museum. Take children’s suggestions and explain that the person responsible is called a ‘curator’.

Watch the video: ‘Life of an art curator’ on VideoLink, in which a curator explains his role and how he came to be an art curator. Pause the video at points to check children’s understanding, make clear any abstract points children may not understand.

Give children a 360-degree tour using the link: ‘Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne’. Explain that everything the children can see has been chosen by the ‘curator’ and that they would be able to tell you all about the items in the collection/exhibition.

 

Key questions

  • What is a curator?
  • What does a curator do?
  • What would be good skills for a curator to have?
  • Have you ever been to an gallery or a museum? Ask for examples.
  • Do you now understand that somebody has to decide where to put things and how to display them?

Main event

Put the children into groups and hand each group a camera. Tell the class that today they are going to be curators, working in groups to create an exhibition that will be held in a local gallery (name one local to you).

To be a ‘real’ curator, children will need to have expert knowledge about the items in their exhibition. They will need to create cards for each object in their collection for their ‘visitors’ to read so that they can learn about the objects displayed.

You might have your own idea as to the subject of the exhibition you want pupils to curate or you could choose one of the following:

You could ask pupils to create their exhibitions on many different themes and even give each group a different theme to work on so that they can view one another’s collections.*

*Using objects that children know less about might require additional time dedicated to research, either using books or tablets/computers.

When you have told the class what exhibition they are curators of, divide them into groups of four or five and allocate a space in the classroom to each group.

Tell the groups they have 20 minutes to curate and create a small miniature exhibition. Ask them to collect a certain number of objects relevant to their exhibition and give them access to display materials so that they can present their collection creatively.

Children must work together to choose their objects, arrange them in an interesting and artistic way and to make signage and descriptions (if time allows). They can request extra materials they might need.

When a group has completed its exhibition then they should photograph it from different angles.

As the children are working, ask:

  • Is your space accessible to all people?
  • Would you want to light it in a particular way?
  • Why is that object next to that object?

 

Play devil’s advocate!

Differentiation

Pupils needing extra support: Should work in in a mixed ability group.

 

Pupils working at greater depth: Could design a poster or an invitation to the exhibition preview, and write a newspaper article which reviews the exhibition.

Wrapping up

The class should move around the different exhibitions, listening to each group of curators explain why they created the design and display as they did.

When the groups present their gallery space, they should do this either as a group or through a spokesperson(s) and explain why they curated it in this particular way, how visitors would enter, walk around, and see the artwork.

They can read out the signage and descriptions if they managed to get that far or alternatively take questions about the collection.

Assessing pupils' progress and understanding

Pupils with secure understanding indicated by: Understanding what a curator is and seeing the links between careers/employment and creative/cultural industries. Working collaboratively.

 

Pupils working at greater depth indicated by: A more highly developed use of descriptive language and understanding of the role. An ability to explain actions and decisions with reasoning and logic.

Vocabulary

  • Curator

  • Exhibition

Created by:
Susan Coles,  
Art & Design specialist
Susan is an educator, artist and an active advocate and well-known champion of art craft and design education. Her roles include: Secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft, Design Education, Past President, and now Honorary Fellow of the…
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