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In the September issue of The Arts Paper, hitting Greater New Haven merchants next week, the publication will introduce readers to Wesleyan University’s cutting edge Performance Curation masters program. Here is a first look at the article written by Pamala Tatge, director of Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts. 

Pamela Tatge, director, Wesleyan University Center for the Arts. Photo by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.

Pamela Tatge, director, Wesleyan University Center for the Arts. Photo by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.

How is it possible to curate time-based work that we can’t really own, or collect? How can we tend to the integrity of work that is ephemeral and offer it with resonance for our communities? In May of this year, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, created the first-ever MA in Performance Curation, a new addition to the existing Certificate Program in Performance Curation at the university’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP).

The idea for ICPP came from Samuel A. Miller, a Wesleyan alumnus (and current president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council) who saw a need for more informed presenting of performance, better advocacy for performance artists, and increased engagement with communities by performance artists. He brought the idea to me at the Center for the Arts, and, working over several years with Wesleyan’s faculty and practitioners from the field, we refined a pilot certificate program that started in the summer of 2011. The certificate is a nine-month low-residency program punctuated by three on-campus intensives. This year, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees approved a two-year MA in Performance Curation — the first of its kind in the world — a center for the academic study of the presentation and contextualization of contemporary performance. Poised between graduate programs in curatorial studies, museum studies, arts administration, performance studies, and the humanities, ICPP offers its students a graduate-level education in innovative and relevant curatorial approaches to developing and presenting time-based art.

Although the practice and pedagogy of curation have historically been linked to the field of visual art, curation is now increasingly integral to the performing arts field. As performance becomes more embedded in museum programs and interdisciplinary projects combine visual art and performance in new ways, the need for a curatorial language and discourse around performance has become all the more pressing. Rather than narrowing in on a single authoritative definition of performance curation, ICPP’s aim has been to create a pluralistic conversation around contemporary performance, providing fundamental tools — a history of critical ideas, intellectual frameworks, and the application of theory to practice — necessary to developing new approaches in the field. ICPP is particularly interested in being inclusive of curatorial models that stem from diverse geographic, ethnic, and social spheres.

Kristy Edmunds, executive director of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, and a guest faculty member at Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance, discussed curating performance in her keynote address at the convening on July 25 at Wesleyan as follows: “There is a very large distinction to be made between the artistic practice that becomes embodied inside of an object and where it sits at the time that that artist has created it and made it fire, whether the culture is ready for it or not … there is a way to revisit that (at some point in the future) in a different way. In performance, however, you’re dealing with the absolute here and now of the human body who works in song, in movement, in provocation through text or words … we don’t have the same kind of chance, possibly, to revisit it later when we have the chance to have caught up to the initial offering of that gesture from the artist.” Students at ICPP will learn ways to serve as bridges between artists and audiences: to offer a work to a community understanding the social, cultural, historical, and theoretical context of that work; to diagnose a need in a community and to engage an artist in reflecting something about that need back to an audience; to provide a framing for a performance work that will provide multiple points of entry for an audience to be able to be enlightened and enriched.

-Pamela Tatge

The Arts Paper is available online and in print at various locations throughout the Greater New Haven area.