Feature: A Look Into the Role of the Curatorial Assistant

By Ashley Knowles

At The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, the experience of the Curatorial Assistant is very similar to that of the Curatorial Trainee. This position is specialised in technical hands-on work that varies in duties from curatorial, to making sure that conservation and restoration are up to museum standards.

The role of the Curatorial Assistant is simple in definition – they fulfill the mission of the gallery and work closely with the acting Director and Curator in taking oral directions and executing tasks efficiently and effectively. These tasks include, but are not limited to, the collection of artwork for exhibitions, the National Collection or events, collections management, administrative tasks, preparing legal documents, appraisals and contracts for collection loans and the training of individuals in the proper handling and care of artwork. Curatorial Assistants must also work wherever talents are needed and as a result, talents such as carpentry and the use of mechanical hand power tools are encouraged.

The Curatorial Assistants work very closely with the National Collection in collections management. From the moment a piece enters the grounds at the gallery it must be catalogued into the database, regardless of whether the artwork is a loan, donation, purchase or permanent loan. The first step in accessioning and cataloging artwork is to gather information about the piece. This includes the name, medium, size (framed and unframed), provenance, date and creator of the piece. The piece must then be inspected for any wear and tear, rips, rust, mold, discolouration and dents and a photograph taken. This information, with a little blurb identifying the most important visual qualities of the artwork, are first entered into the database and the piece is then given an accession and object number. An accession number identifies which group the individual piece came in, and an object number is the piece’s individual number and main form of identification in the collection. After the data has been recorded, digital and paper accession files are created for reference purposes and it is finally recorded in a large master list.

Curatorial Assistant Ashley Knowles assisting with a tour.

Despite these tasks seeming very straightforward, the Curatorial Department must have an extensive knowledge of the collection and artists, as this process often becomes complicated a large number of pieces are to be accessioned in a short period of time, or when information is not present. This is a big problem in collections management, as there is often data missing and this must be researched by looking up newspaper articles, contacting artists if they are alive or closest relatives, if they are not. Sometimes the information cannot be found. After the pieces are safely nestled in the NAGB art storeroom, they must be checked constantly to assess conservation efforts and update data files. Due to this closeness with all artworks that enter the gallery, Curatorial Assistants also interact a great deal with other art galleries, donors and art collectors.

At the gallery, Curatorial Assistants have the opportunity to further their growth and understanding of museum practices by undertaking independent research and endeavours, depending on where interests and talents lie. For instance, if the Curatorial Assistant wishes to do so, they can become integrated into the curatorial process with the curator and learn the ins and outs of curating a quality art exhibition. This opportunity for learning can lead to independent curating prospects in the future for the assistant. Curatorial Assistants and Trainees also have opportunities to improve their writing skills by writing articles for exhibition catalogues and newsletters.

Overall, the role of the Curatorial Assistant is a varied one. By working with the Director, curators, Curatorial Trainees and education staff, assistants are able to grow as they are constantly exposed to other positions, work ethics and experiences everyday.

If you’d like to book a tour with the NAGB, please call 242-328-5800. Feel free to leave a comment or send us an email, we look forward to hearing from you!

Curatorial Assistant Jackson Petit-Homme installing art at the Government House.