As Curator Lucinda Barnes thinks back on her journey into her career as a curator, she recalled the time when she was taking an airport shuttle bus back to her apartment in Chicago. There she met a woman who asked Barnes what she did for a career. She told the woman, who was an attorney, that she was a curator. The attorney looked to her and said, “it must be nice to go to a job you love everyday.” Though not all attorneys dis-
like their profession, Barnes said, “I can’t even fathom doing something that you don’t love everyday.”
Barnes is the senior curator of collections at the Berkeley Museum of Art, who came to Mills College last Wednesday to answer some questions on the career of the collection curator.
“Collections focus on the now, the future and the past,” said Barnes. “We project in the future but belong to the past.”
Barnes is interested in dialogue between art history and contemporary art. She feels by understanding contemporary art, it helps her understand art when it was created. “All art has been contemporary at one time,” said Barnes. Collection curators have multiple duties and Barnes points out that not all museums have a collection curator. Her duties include acquiring art for the permanent collection, care for the art, programming exhibits to interpret the art and to develop and add growth to the museum.
“Its not just about the art,” said Barnes. “I am making works of art accessible to people.”
When purchasing art for the collection at a university museum, Barnes thinks about how the piece will add depth and change the direction of the collection. University museum’s acquire art directed to the core strengths at the university. Her example at University of California Berkeley is baroque art. Which is one of their teaching strengths.
Barnes recalls her enthusiasm for art as a young woman. She began as a painter but then she swiftly found out that her talent was not on the easel but in the wide world of art history. She chose this as her major as an undergraduate at New York University. However, when she graduated and went to the galleries of New York with her degree in hand, the galleries asked if she had any experience in the gallery. She told them, “I want to design exhibits.” Though her dream would not come true for a number of years, Barnes was dedicated and she began her career as an administrative assistant, then called a “secretary.” Barnes felt this was crucial for her development and choice to go and get her masters degree. She explains that a hands-on experience is the best education.
Though Barnes has been a successful museum curator, she says this comes with a cost. “We suffer from our successes,” said Barnes. Museum work has become harder she added, being a curator is energizing to Barnes but it very time-consuming and there is a dilemma between leisure and business. She said that there is a large rate of burn out for museum curators.
“You work 12 months a year,” she said, “you get exhausted.” Although it is hard work, Barnes said, “its great fun and I get incredible satisfaction. I walk into a new world everyday.”
Students welcomed Barnes for her insight on what museums are looking for when buying art for their permanent collection.”I liked that she is investing in contemporary art,” said graduate student Rosana Castrillo.