Curating the East Midlands: Jennifer Gleadell

Jennifer Gleadell is Exhibitions and Interpretation Officer atThe Collection and Usher Gallery in Lincoln. She has a first degree in History of Art from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Art History and Curation from the University of Birmingham. She has worked for the Liverpool Biennial and the British Council. Having first worked at The Collection and Usher Gallery in Lincoln between 2015 and 2016, as Assistant Curator, she took up a new role of Exhibitions and Interpretation Officer there in 2018. Jenny also works as Assistant Producer of Exhibitions at the The Wilson Art Gallery & Museum in Cheltenham.

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Greensleeves, 2017 © Hurvin Anderson. All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2018

How did you come to curating?

I came to curating through a fascination with exhibition-making, developed during my degree in Art History from UEA based at the Sainsbury Centre and an MA from University of Birmingham, alongside a series of really influential early career internships (in particular at Syson Gallery in Nottingham and Liverpool Biennial). From quite early on in my career, I became interested in site-specific commissions and how working with contemporary artists can open up new narratives within museum collections, which has brought me to my current role at The Collection.

On the Beach at Night Alone, 2018, Ellen Brady. Image courtesy the University of Lincoln

What’s happening behind the scenes at the moment at your venue?

Behind the scenes at The Collection, as well as researching and developing upcoming exhibitions, we are currently finding exciting new ways to collaborate with sector partners and also integrating Learning and Outreach deeper into exhibitions programming, through long-term engagement with schools, Universities and community groups. 2019 is going to be a big year for The Collection and I am really excited to be able to announce soon some projects coming up in 2020, working with contemporary artists and our collections… watch this space!

OPEM install shot in the New Curtois Gallery, The Collection, Lincoln

Who are the artists and/or partners that you’re working with at the moment?

We are currently showing Land, City & Sea; British Masters from the David Ross Collection, an exhibition including work by artists such as David Hockney and Barbara Hepworth, alongside more contemporary pieces by artists such as Lynette Yiadom- Boakye and Hurvin Anderson. We are also showing a multi-media, immersive installation by Ellen Brady in the Usher Gallery, titled On the Beach at Night Alone. Ellen Brady is an artist based in the East Midlands, working with sound, video and more recently painting-based work. She developed this site-specific installation for the Usher Gallery alongside Land, City & Sea, exploring our collective imagination of the ocean and following her interest in our human need to ‘make safe’ the sea.

We have also just launched our most recent series of contemporary art flags on top of the Usher Gallery and also flying on the high street in Lincoln. These flags were designed by internationally exhibiting mural and public artist Billy, who designed them to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act and to celebrate the slow journey to equality for all.

We have a fantastic programme of 6-week long exhibitions in our Courtyard Gallery showing local contemporary artists and community groups, selected by a panel of museum staff.  Currently we are showing ‘Betty’s Windows’ by Jo Smith, an exhibition inspired by Jo’s encounter with an elderly lady who she discovered to be a fascinating character, and following that from the 15th December we are showing ‘Intervals’, an exhibition by artists Karolina Dworska, Andia Newton and Andy Williams, who are three graduates of our young peoples’ programme, Usher Young Creatives.

Upcoming OPEM Artist in Residence 2019, Michael Shaw, Galvanometer, from installation at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum © The Artist, 2018

Tell us about your current exhibition or upcoming exhibition or project.

At the moment, I am developing plans for our OPEM Artists in Residence 2019, which will run from 11th May to 23rd June in our main gallery space, with a closing Symposium at the end of the exhibition period.

Currently, I am working through ideas for the way the New Curtois Gallery will look, developing working studio space that suits all the needs of the chosen artists but also functions as a display space and support structure too.

This is an absolute first for the museum, having artists working and collaborating directly with the public for such an extended period. To this end, for the first time the OPEM artists were selected by a panel of museum staff, including representatives from learning and front of house teams who fully understand the practicalities and challenges of running of this space.

We are encouraging collaboration and interaction with the public throughout and I am working closely with the learning team to work out how to create bespoke learning opportunities for schools and HE/FE during this exhibition period.

Upcoming OPEM Artist in Residence 2019, Ros Lorimer, Paper Craft Buildings, image © The Artist, 2018

How do you select the artists you work with?

We have various ways of selecting and working with artists. Most of the time we select artists who we think can develop and further ideas that we are exploring in our exhibition programme, whether that is developing solo exhibitions or commissions, contributing to thematic exhibitions, responding to our permanent collections, or increasingly developing new ways of working – either offsite, outside of the gallery space, in the digital realm. For me, addressing the gender imbalance in our collections and representing artists from diverse background through our exhibitions policy is really important.

Talent development is a major part of what we do here and it is vitally important as there are very few spaces in Lincolnshire that can offer development and support for emerging artists. For opportunities such as OPEM and our contemporary artist designed flag commission, we select artists anonymously and work with a panel of museum staff from all areas of the team or invite external selectors – so that unconscious bias is omitted and we support emerging artists and provide opportunities for all.

What dates should we put in our calendars?

2019 is going to be a big year for The Collection and Usher Gallery. We are showing Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon from 2nd March – 28th April 2019, which is not to be missed, and OPEM Artists in Residence 2019 runs from the 11th May – 23rd June 2019. We will be closing this exhibition with a Symposium addressing ways of working with artists in museum spaces (the date will be confirmed soon).

Upcoming OPEM Artist in Residence 2019, Belen Cerezo, install shot

What or who are you really excited about?

I am really excited about the upcoming year at The Collection and Usher Gallery; 2019 is going to be huge! In May and June 2019, we will be working with East Midlands-based artists Belen Cerezo, Ros Lorimer and Michael Shaw for our OPEM Artists in Residence 2019. We are also working with Luke Jerram’s studio to deliver Museum of the Moon in our main temporary exhibition space early in 2019, which will be accompanied by a really exciting programme of Late Night events in the museum. As our exhibition programme is a mix of NPO-supported contemporary art exhibitions and more family-friendly touring and thematic exhibitions, we also have the touring ‘Dinosaur Encounters’ and an exhibition in collaboration with the V&A, celebrating the birth of the famous museum and collection.

Whose work or what space would you most like to curate?

That is quite a difficult question – there are so many artists I would like to work with, in particular to open up our collections in new ways – exploring more critical and global narratives. As an institution we are looking at finding new ways of inviting artists, audiences and publics to work with us and our collections to break down the barriers of the museum collection and rethink audience engagement.

Reflections Flag, Billy © The Artist, 2018

What do we need to see more of in the East Midlands?

More art! In particular in Lincolnshire and Lincoln, I think we need more working infrastructures and more active networks to provide support for emerging artists/recent graduates/ practicing artists. In this time of prioritising commercial values and increasingly limited budgets, institutions also need to be able to take creative risks and programme thought-provoking and challenging exhibitions.


Jenny was interviewed in December 2018.