Shauna Jean Doherty
Why did you choose to attend OCAD U?
I chose to apply to OCAD U because the university offered a course specifically dedicated to curatorial practice. I attended the information day about the Curatorial Graduate program and I was really drawn to the fact that the faculty as cultural practitioners had expertise within the field academically, but they also had their own active practice. I had considered going to Goldsmith's in the UK, but I thought it would be more strategic to pursue my graduate studies in the same city that I wanted to develop my practice is. While it was advantageous to study in Toronto and immerse myself in the art scene it didn't necessarily benefit me in terms of employment. The first full-time job I was offered after graduating was in Vancouver. So I moved, never really having had the opportunity to practice in a full-time capacity in the city where I was trained.
Please briefly describe your current job / practice.
I am currently the Distribution and Outreach Manager for Video Out which is a part of VIVO Media Arts Centre in Vancouver, BC. Video Out is a non-exclusive distributor of video art. I help to manage the organization's existing video collection and circulate the works to festivals, galleries, and classrooms internationally. I am also responsible for researching and identifying new artists and works to put into distribution. I also curate a screening series once a month at VIVO to showcase works that are newly in distribution.
How did you get started in your career?
After university I worked a number of freelance jobs. I had a short term gallery assistant position at Hamilton Artists Inc. and commuted to Hamilton from Toronto everyday for a summer. At that point I was spending a large portion of my wage for the day on my commute. During that time I also tried to write as much as possible. I reviewed exhibitions, wrote book reviews, and even when no one would publish them I would post them onto my website. I also volunteered, submitted my video work to screenings, and interned. I also went to almost every exhibition opening I could find. It was important to me to network and stay present within the Toronto art scene, even though, for a number of months after graduating, that wasn't translating into a job.
Did you volunteer or work in your field while you were a student?
An internship was built into the Art Criticism and Curatorial Practice graduate program at OCAD U. I talked myself into an internship for the First Thursday Program with Sean O'Neill at the Art Gallery of Ontario in the summer between my first and second year of study. That internship turned into a short term contract with the AGO the following September. I also acted as the assistant curator at Hashtag Gallery in Toronto during that summer.
While I was completing my MFA I curated two exhibitions. One was an analogue photo show that wasn't related to my thesis research and one was an exhibition that helped me work through my preliminary ideas related to my thesis. I also took any volunteer opportunities that arose from OCAD U during the school year, which for me included, Nuit Blanche, The Toronto International Art Fair, and GradEx.
What were your policies regarding internships, volunteering, and paid work?
Since the internships that I pursued during my studies were for credit I wasn't paid for them. This did create some difficulties in terms of working almost full-time for free and then working an additional serving job to generate an income. Unpaid internships are indeed unsustainable. The Teaching Assistant Program that OCAD U offers to graduate students was a really awesome opportunity. I TAed for both years of my study and during the summers. Working in the university (especially in the summer) was fantastic and it kept me focused on my academic projects.
What do you enjoy most about your work? What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
The job I currently have challenges me every day and I get to draw on both my knowledge of video art and my curatorial background. I get to manage my department so my decisions about programming and acquisitions are mobilized and I have the freedom to introduce new ideas all the time. The main challenge is monetary. Working in an artist-run-centre isn't the most lucrative pursuit and I think there needs to be some honesty about that for people entering into curatorial careers. Additionally, like any grant-based entity, the organization that I work for must always consider the financial impacts of all of our activities, which can become somewhat stifling.
What skills or relationships developed at OCAD U helped you participate in your field? Is there anything you would have done differently?
In my graduating class there were only 7 students and we often had to work together. Collaboration was a key skill that I have carried with me into my professional life, the core of which was learning how to be co-operative and flexible. OCAD U is an extremely dynamic environment unlike any space I have ever been part of. There were so many like-minded artists and curators to work with and it was simply a matter of pursuing those opportunities.
What are the key responsibilities you maintain for your practice?
In my current job at an artist-run centre I try to remain aware of emerging video practices and contemporary art aesthetics. I get to program and curate in various capacities so that satisifies my curatorial impulse in many ways. I haven't yet pursued any independent curatorial projects since starting to work in the arts in a permanent/full-time position. I do still write however, for various North American publications. I've been asked to write a number of exhibition essays since graduating and I continue to write exhibition and book reviews independently. I wrote my thesis about "glitch art" an emergent and digital aesthetic often applied to images or video. I have continued to remain familiar with the latest in digital art and I feel like that has helped me carve out a specific cache for my writing practice and knowledge base.
What are your personal and professional goals for the coming years?
I want to be able to curate a least one exhibition a year, which I have managed to do since 2011. I want to continue curating new media art exhibitions and help to facilitate the mounting of technically challenging exhibitions to large institutions (which seem to be often intimidated by technologically demanding artworks). I want to publish as much as possible and shift my focus for a time towards academic writing rather than the short exhibition and book reviews I've been doing lately.