Image: Steph Cibich and Carly Snoswell with Carly’s ‘Crochet your character’ at the Adelaide Art Vending Machine housed at AGSA, 2019. Photograph: Rosina Possingham.

ART WORKS 2020 Emerging Curator Steph Cibich is currently based one-day per week at Guildhouse. Programs Officer Julianne Pierce caught up with Steph and asked her a few questions about her inspirations and future plans.
What first inspired you to become a curator?

Honestly, I don’t know if I knew what a curator was five years ago! I had always been involved in the arts somehow (writing, music and I was involved in acting for a long time), but after high school I thought I should try and get ‘a real job’ to support my arts interests on the side. I finished a degree in Nutrition and travelled for a bit, even becoming a Pilates Instructor (which I still am now!) but couldn’t really find the right fit.

One day I went to the Art Gallery of South Australia and spoke to one of their friendly volunteers about the kinds of jobs you may find in an art gallery and the qualifications you might need. After speaking with a few more people, I enrolled part-time in a Postgraduate Diploma of Art History and eventually completed a Master of Arts (Curatorial and Museum Studies) at the University of Adelaide.

By the time I knew what a curator was I honestly thought it was out of my league. During my studies I volunteered and interned in as many places as I could to try and understand the many possible roles in the arts industry. It took time but I tried to absorb as much as possible and was lucky enough to be given some really great opportunities and learn from some incredible people.

By that stage I had met and witnessed so many amazing curators but it wasn’t until the very end of my degree that I realized this was something I really wanted to do. I loved the idea of working alongside artists and other arts workers, writing and investing myself in a career that challenged me and which I could really sink my teeth into.

What are the themes and concepts that are of particular interest to you?

I’m really fascinated by the human condition and our contemporary existence. Themes and concepts which explore and unpack our experiences and the nature of our times. I’m interested in the things which bind us, challenge us and encourage us to consider things more deeply or from a different perspective.

I’m also passionate about democratising experiences with art and enhancing its accessibility, particularly in public spaces. I come from a typically non-arts family and am constantly reminded of the barriers people face (real and perceived) to engaging with art. I believe that art has the ability to break down barriers, challenge our way of thinking and help us lead more engaged and informed lives … I hate how corny it sounds but I honestly believe that these sorts of experiences are for everyone.

What would you like to learn through undertaking the ART WORKS 2020 Emerging Curator program?

I feel that I am still at the very beginning of my career as an Emerging Curator. So, I have been most excited to expand my curatorial practice and gain insight and mentorship by working alongside experienced Guildhouse staff. I know this has already improved my skills in exhibition and program development and I hope it will continue to broaden my knowledge of key curatorial processes and strengthen other skills in arts writing, installation and audience development.

I’m also fascinated by art in public spaces and am thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about exhibiting in Adelaide’s prominent civic locations, such as the Adelaide Town Hall.

Finally, I believe that you can always learn something by meeting and working with different people. I have loved collaborating and working with different artists and other arts workers and look forward to learning more through future interactions during the next stage of this program.

What is your approach to developing curatorial concepts and selecting artworks?

I think it changes with each opportunity and ultimately depends on the artist, the artwork and the space. Typically, I like to collaborate and work closely with artists to facilitate their creative practice. This usually involves lots of conversations and often begins with a preliminary idea or a concept. That concept usually changes or adapts as the collaborative process develops. But before then I will usually try to find out as much as I can about an artist’s work and practice. I think it’s always about putting the artist or the artwork first. Not squeezing them to fit a prescribed premise.

I think it’s a similar approach when working with existing work, or multiple artists. I will generally start with a preliminary idea or an artwork in mind, as sort of a base. And then through a lot of research (on the work, that artist, other artists, and other works) the curatorial concept will start to take shape and I will start to draw out – what I think is – an interesting conversation between artworks and artists to explore a more developed idea. But again, it ultimately starts with an artist and artwork.

What has been the most challenging aspect for you of the COVID-19 crisis?

It’s been really difficult to see so many people suffering – in the way of fear, loss of work and health. I think artists and arts workers are resilient at the best of times but there have been so many challenges for our community lately.

For me personally, I consider myself to be very, very fortunate. I have had work postponed and opportunities lost. But I’m lucky enough to still have an income and my loved ones are safe and healthy. My only other challenges have been like everyone else’s, in the way of constantly having to adjust and adapt to new ways or working and being. I think we’re all exhausted from dealing with so much change and the incessant amount of information.

Who is a curator you admire and why?

Great question! Honestly, there are so many who I admire for such different reasons. But, to name a few off the top of my head I would have to say Hans Ulrich Obrist – I read his book Ways of Curating just before starting my Masters and it left a lasting impression on me, particularly his value for infinite conversations and for creating an exhibition in his own kitchen – I just LOVE that!

Closer to home, I would say Nici Cumpston. Her approach to collaborating and working alongside artists – particularly Aboriginal artists – is inspiring! … And also Lisa Slade. I love the way her mind works and I think she’s absolutely incredible.

What are your plans following the ART WORKS 2020 Emerging Curator program?

The program is scheduled to finish at the end of 2020. Hopefully, by the start of 2021, I will be working towards the completion of work postponed due to COVID-19 which will include an exhibition at FELTspace gallery and further iterations of Art Vending Machine Australia’s Adelaide Art Vending Machine. I also work part time as the Assistant Curator / Program officer at the Centre for Creative Health so I expect to be quite busy with our exhibition program. Beyond that, I hope to be able to keep developing my skills as a curator and find new opportunities to collaborate with artists.

Steph Cibich

Steph Cibich is an Adelaide-based emerging curator with a passion for brining creative projects to life. She believes in arts palpable ability to help us lead more engaged and informed lives and is committed to the promotion of contemporary artists.

Steph is the Assistant Curator/Program Officer at the Centre for Creative Health and was selected as Emerging Curator for 2019 by the Art History and Curatorship Alumni Network and Floating Goose Studios. As part of this program, she curated the exhibition Material Connections at Floating Goose (SALA 2019) and was awarded the City of Onkaparinga Contemporary Curator Award.

Steph founded Art Vending Machines Australia (AVMA) in 2019 – a public art initiative that launched its first ‘Adelaide Art Vending Machine’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) and came to life while Steph undertook an internship as part of her Master of Arts (Curatorial and Museum Studies) at the University of Adelaide (2018).

In 2017 Steph received AGSA’s Excellence Award for Marketing and Development support and completed a 12 month internship at Artlink Magazine.

Steph is based at Guildhouse for 1 day per week throughout 2020 and will be liaising closely with the 2020 Art Works Artists in Residence and Writer in Residence. She will also be curating three exhibitions of South Australian artists that will be presented at the Adelaide Town Hall Mankurri-api Kuu (Reconciliation room) and First Floor Gallery.