StoriesBrittany Smith ’17, Art & Design

Curating Her Own Path

Brittany Smith finds a new way of applying her degree and sees a passion emerge. The career path towards independent curator is more fulfilling than expected for Brittany, as she accesses new space and narratives to help her and her college friends exhibit work and grow as artists.

gallery exhibit with papers stuck to the white wall and framed images behind pedestals

Curators develop and organize a collection of items to exhibit. Whether they be paintings, rocks, photographs, or other works, these items all share a common theme. And it's up to the curator to tie each piece together to tell a story that becomes an evocative experience for the viewer.

For Brittany Smith '17, a graduate of our BFA in Photography program, this career path in curation started with her desire to find a space where she and her friends could show their works. Now, she has found success as an independent curator in New York.

black and white photo of young woman sitting in empty white room wearing a black sweatshirt
Brittany Smith

Brittany's initial vision for a showing grew into a fully formed exhibition in a Boston gallery that featured seven artists—six of them Lesley College of Art and Design graduates. “The drive to create my first exhibition, Our Sweet Secret Language, was sparked through a mutual obsession with a love of love,” Brittany shares. “The show came about through many conversations with friends, the recovery of a breakup, and trying to keep our work going after graduation.“

This first exhibition helped to reveal a larger career path that wasn’t so visible before this experience of organizing and selecting people’s work alongside her own. Moving from the first show into the second, she quickly saw this interest turn into a full-blown passion.

Her second exhibit took place in Brooklyn where Brittany focused on creating a space for viewers to enter into the work. Through lighting and flexibility in how the pieces were displayed, the second show grew into a larger and more conceptual gaze on love.

exhibit wall with black letters reading GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN
"Glimpse of Heaven" at The Cluster Gallery in the Brooklyn Art Cluster

Glimpse of Heaven focused on the space we create where love is all powerful and becomes the center of our thoughts. The exhibit space became the location of ‘heaven’, where all ideals of love were discussed in one white space where the sometimes-unhealthy expectations of love were exposed." Brittany describes, "Like in Rebecca Schnopp’s (BFA Fine Arts 2016) piece where the lemons are connected, but start to turn black and rot at similar rates. Heaven was about coming back to love with more experience and perspectives, but still struggling to let go of unobtainable ideas of a romantic love.”

four rotting lemons sit on a white pedestal connected by yellow string
Rebecca Schnopp | "I Have Found You But We Will Both Still Die"

Working as an independent curator means hunting for exhibition space and meeting submission deadlines. Fortunately, most of the hunting happens online and for Brittany, her partnership with Brooklyn Art Cluster started through a quick Google search. However, she had more research to do and conversations to have. As with any exhibition, space is a major factor and can impact the final show a great deal. It’s up to the curator to remain flexible and open in how people’s work will be shown.

white blanket on concrete floor with black text from private messenger printed on blanket
Emma Fernald | "conversations with carlo" | Brittany originally had this work spread on the floor but had to rethink its location for the show

“In the process of curating, I spent a decent chunk of time trying to find a location to house the exhibition. In pursuing the show and Brooklyn Art Cluster, one challenging aspect of the gallery was space. I had nine artists and a very small gallery, but we made it work," says Brittany. "For example, I imagined Emma Fernald’s (BFA Interdisciplinary Studies, 2019) piece to be on the floor, but I had to place it on the wall instead. We added texture to activate its new location and it completely changed how viewers interacted with the piece. The gallery size forced me to make some serious executive decisions that benefited everyone’s work.”

white blanket on wall with black text written on it
Emma Fernald | "conversations with carlo" | Brittany decided to move Emma's piece to the wall where she found it activated the text and engaged viewers

Brittany’s new partnership proved successful as she was able to join a community of artists and access gallery space that supported her new-found curation path. And her college friends have experienced this new path with her.

“I’m excited to keep building on concepts for a new show. All of the featured artists have more work to show you! I am looking forward to curating more exhibitions in the future and exploring how audio pieces alone are engaging enough for a gallery setting.”

two people stand looking at huge stack of paper in dimly lit red room
Bella Steele '18 | "Take what you need" | Installation photo by Liam MacCormack '19 + Melissa Ostrow

With multiple shows under her belt, Brittany continues to collect and organize ideas for upcoming shows. In fact, she is moving from Brooklyn to Cambridge to produce a whole new exhibition at Gallery 263. Although she still enjoys discussing love and all its effects, she looks forward to expanding her focus and digging into different work for this next exhibit and continuing down this curation career path.

Brittany's tips for photo students:

  1. Photography is only a medium. It’s just the vessel for things that you find interesting. The artist is completely in charge of what makes an image or artwork. Without you, there is no work. So make what you want and question the medium, turning it on its head.
  2. Don’t think so much about the end goal. Have expectations for your work, but in school its all about the process. Nothing you make is final, so listen during your critiques. Even in curation, I was researching more after the first exhibit when my idea of love drastically changed. Your ideas, perspectives and ways of communicating will constantly change. Allow the shifts and keep moving forward.

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