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As Pearson Airport's Curator, I'm Bringing Art to New Heights

12/11/2013 05:34 EST | Updated 02/10/2014 05:59 EST

Bringing local culture and art to new heights

For most travellers, airports are about making connections between destinations, but I see Toronto Pearson International Airport in a different way. When I walk into the airport, I see a blank canvas and feel a sense of possibility.

As Toronto Pearson's curator I'm responsible for programming the exhibition spaces at the airport, ensuring that it reflects the vitality of the local arts and cultural community. I curate some exhibitions myself, and for others, I work with local arts, culture and heritage organizations. One of our goals at Toronto Pearson is to connect with our communities, and one of the ways that we do this is by creating opportunities for artists and students. Our biennial juried exhibition and our partnerships with the local arts organizations and the University of Toronto are some of the ways we do this.

Biennial juried exhibition

Every two years, I organize a juried art exhibition which allows local artists at any stage of their careers to contribute to the airport's Art and Exhibits Program.

This year, I received over 420 submissions from 259 artists -- almost triple the number from the last juried show. The panel of three jurors, drawn from the local arts community, spent a day looking and talking and narrowed the submissions down to a final exhibition of 19 photographs, paintings, prints and mixed media works.

This show allows me to find undiscovered artists in the community. Most of the submissions come from artists whose work I've never seen before. It's a great way for me to get a snapshot of what's happening at the community level. I've given solo or two-person shows to two artists whose work I first saw in one of my juried shows. As part of the juried show there is a Purchase Award. This means that artists who are selected for the exhibition not only have their work seen by thousands of people, but also have the opportunity for their piece to be purchased by the GTAA for our corporate collection.

Tazeen Qayyum: Holding Pattern (in partnership with the Art Gallery of Mississauga)

Part of our mandate is to show airport passengers the incredible cultural vitality of our surrounding communities. I invited Stuart Keeler, the Director and Curator at the Art Gallery of Mississauga (AGM), to curate a show for the airport. He introduced me to Tazeen Qayyum, a local artist originally from Pakistan, who had exhibited at the AGM. After visiting the airport -- this time as an artist rather than a passenger -- Tazeen decided that she wanted to create a new project that built upon her previous work but also took direct inspiration from the airport environment.

This project was made possible by Toronto Pearson's Art and Exhibits Program which provides exhibit space, financial support and access to behind the scenes and secure areas of the airport. This is a great example of the opportunities and inspiration that our program can offer artists.

Annual University of Toronto Partnership

Since 2009, I've organized an annual partnership with the University of Toronto's graduate program in Museum Studies. I'm a graduate of this program, which makes this initiative particularly close to my heart.

Each year I find a content partner and connect them with a group of students from the University of Toronto who curate an exhibition which is installed at the airport. This year, we're working with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

The program gives students the opportunity to gain real curatorial experience and is a chance for me to give something back to the program that was instrumental in my career. I'm happy that I'm now at the point in my career where I have expertise to share.

I truly believe that arts and culture connect and engage people and are a vital part of the community.

The airport is a unique exhibition venue and it allows me introduce the richness and depth of our cultural community to passengers who may not be from the area, or who may not visit museums and galleries. And because every show is developed specifically for the exhibition spaces at the airport, my work is very hands-on and highly collaborative. I'm constantly inspired by the artists, students and organizations I work with, and that's made my seven and a half years as curator at Toronto Pearson fly by.

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