Bringing Art to Everyone

Allison Glenn talks about her role as senior curator for Public Art Fund

Allison Glenn with Gillian Wearing: Diane Arbus, 2021. Presented by Public Art Fund at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, New York City, October 20, 2021 to August 14, 2022. © Gillian Wearing. Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Regen Projects, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Allison Glenn.

Allison Glenn interacts with a sculpture by Gillian Wearing in a New York City plaza.

Scholastic Art: What is your job?

Allison Glenn: I’m senior curator at Public Art Fund. In my role, I work with artists to realize public art exhibitions across New York City.

SA: What does a curator do?

AG: It depends on what kind of organization you work for. Curators can sometimes care for objects or artworks in a collection. Sometimes, curators think about archives. In my role, I work with a team, and we work with artists and ideas to develop exhibitions for the public.

SA: What did you study in school?

AG: For my undergraduate degree, I got a bachelor of fine arts in photography with a co-major in urban studies. That intersection of arts and cities put me on a pathway to where I am right now, although I wasn’t aware of that at the time. For graduate school, I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and got a double master’s degree in art history, theory, and criticism and arts administration and policy.

View of “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” 2021, Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY. Opening day tour by Allison Glenn. Photo: Jon Cherry Photography, LLC.

Glenn speaks to a group of visitors at an exhibition she curated.

SA: What skills does a curator need?

AG: Patience; a good sense of humor; the ability to manage, lead, follow, delegate, and work collaboratively. And I would also say incredible imagination and a desire for knowledge.

SA: Why does public art matter?

AG: Public art matters because it is a platform that is free and open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are minimal barriers to entry, and it allows people to engage with art. Oftentimes, it can engage a multigenerational, accidental audience. It folds into the natural fabric of the urban experience, and it doesn’t require ascending a staircase or paying an admission fee, so it’s more accessible, and it fits into the daily lives of people.

SA: How can art help raise awareness about important social issues?

AG: Artists help us understand the world through a unique lens that can bring insight into issues, concerns, and ideas that perhaps we hadn’t considered.

Kehinde Wiley, Go, 2020 © Kehinde Wiley. An original work of art commissioned by Empire State Development in partnership with Public Art Fund for Moynihan Train Hall. Photo: Nicholas Knight. Courtesy of the Artist, Sean Kelly, New York, Empire State Development and Public Art Fund, NY.

The Public Art Fund helped this artwork by Kehinde Wiley come to fruition. Why does Glenn believe public artworks like this one are important?

SA: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on so far?

AG: I’m so bad with favorites. There have been around 20 to 30 projects that I have realized. But there have been many more that I haven’t because ideas don’t always get greenlit [approved]. Just because you have an idea, it doesn’t mean everyone else thinks it’s a great one.

SA: What do you love most about your work as a curator?

AG: I’m constantly learning new things, traveling, and meeting new people. I have conversations, read books, and meet artists. It’s about the endless pursuit of knowledge, and that’s what I love.

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