As August was coming to a close, Heather Ferrell, curator and director of exhibitions at Burlington City Arts, took time from her busy schedule to discuss her vision and process for integrating the thriving downtown Burlington City Arts Center into the greater regional arts scene. In this discussion with Artscope’s Marta Pauer Tursi, she explained what constitutes the 21st century museum experience, how curators engage the community, how she views diversity beyond national or regional identity and the intersection of art and technology.
Ferrell came to Vermont in 2016 from Doha, Qatar, where for more than five years she worked with the National Museum of Qatar and the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art as deputy director of programs and exhibitions. Originally from Boise, Idaho, she also worked as director at the Salina Art Center, Kansas, and the Salt Lake Art Center, Utah.
MPT: YOU HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL BACKGROUND IN ARTS; HOW DOES THAT DEFINE YOUR VISION FOR ARTS IN VERMONT AND THE NEW ENGLAND REGION?
HF: I would say that my international experience informs my vision of how an art curator in Vermont can curate exhibitions and has offered some incredible opportunities to meet and work with artists, thinkers and communities outside my own, broadening my perspective. I believe an important way to understand your own community and contemporary art practice is to contextualize it within a larger framework — artistic, cultural, social, political, etc. We live in a global world and I believe we have a responsibility to support our artists locally as well as connect them nationally and internationally, while always keeping ourselves grounded in relevant topics and artistic practice.
MPT: YOU ARE A GRADUATE OF GETTY LEADERSHIP IN MUSEUMS; HOW DOES THAT EXPERIENCE ENHANCE YOUR VISION?
HF: Yes, I graduated from GLI’s Next Gen program and it was a transformative experience that also connected me to many talented, creative thinkers in the art and museum world. As a result of GLI, I was able to better shape my vision as a curator as well as set myself on the path toward arts management and community engagement.
My curatorial vision is focused on organizing exhibitions that are thought-provoking, relevant, often participatory and community-centered in some aspect. Today, the role of an art center or gallery has grown beyond the notion of passively presenting contemporary artists; we must also actively engage our audience and create a meaningful dialogue with the viewer.
MPT: HOW DO YOU SUPPORT LOCAL ARTISTS AND AT THE SAME TIME INTEGRATE ART FROM BEYOND THE REGION? WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?
HF: As the BCA curator, I support Vermont artists through studio visits, exhibitions, public programs such as Artist at Work [a longer format artist program that also discusses artist professional development], proposal reviews and opportunities to serve as guest curators.