Putting Artists First in Curatorial Projects with Melissa Messina
Today’s conversation on The Art Biz is packed with tips and insider info. In my conversation with independent curator Melissa Messina, we discuss what an independent curator does, how Melissa finds and works with artists, and what happens during a studio visit to an artist she is (or might be) working with. You won’t want to miss the insights she shares about common mistakes she sees artists making, as well as how to correct them. Above all, Melissa shares the empowering reminder that the artist is at the center of all a curator, a museum, or a gallery does.
“I think that curator gene has always been in me.” (1:55)
Melissa’s work as an independent curator. (5:32)
How does a curator find their artists? (9:00)
The importance of your network. (14:37)
Insights from the details of Melissa’s standard project. (18:46)
Scheduling projects and finding funding with fellowships. (23:55)
Curating an artist's estate is the joy of Melissa’s life. (26:53)
What piquesMelissa’s interest in the artists she encounters? (32:01)
The cities, websites, publications, and galleries where Melissa looks for artists. (35:00)
Working with galleries as an independent curator. (38:04)
The role that studio visits play in a curator-artist relationship. (40:54)
What curators are looking for from a studio visit. (48:51)
Correcting the mistakes that too many artists make. (50:54)
This Week’s Assignment
Research my guest Melissa Messina and start following her on social media. Then start researching independent curators in your area and start following them. Consider inviting them into your studio for a low-stress visit—and don’t forget to offer them a drink.
“I’m constantly making calculations to see where an exhibition or project might percolate out of my experiences and relationships.” — Melissa Messina
“Your network is everything.” — Melissa Messina
“There are some really good artists with bad attitudes, and I would much rather give the opportunity to someone who is a joy to work with.” — Melissa Messina
“I think artists would do better to let go of their expectations in a studio visit.” — Melissa Messina
“Without the artist and their work, there wouldn’t be anything for us to do.” — Melissa Messina
About My Guest
Melissa Messina is a nationally recognized arts professional who has developed thought-provoking exhibitions, dynamic site-responsive projects and engaging educational public programming both independently and in leadership positions at museums and non-profit arts organizations. For 20 years, her work with regional, national, and international artists has been presented in the U.S. in Atlanta, Kansas City, Miami, New York, New Orleans, Richmond, Savannah, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Bermuda, France, and Hong Kong. She has lectured extensively and published widely, and her research has been funded by Creative Time and The Andy Warhol Foundation, as well as by fellowships at Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Library, Atlanta, GA, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR.
In addition to serving select public and private clients, she is the curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate. She has also recently served as guest curator at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and the New Orleans Museum of Art, and was the co-curator of the 2018 and 2020 Bermuda Biennials. In 2017, she co-created Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, an intergenerational exhibition highlighting 21 Black female abstract practitioners that traveled from Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City to The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.