MICA’s illustrious graduate programs can facilitate strong connections between students and the opportunities and practitioners of their field, but for Jared Christensen ’19 (Curatorial Practice MFA) (He/They) the most valuable takeaway from the program was the most personal one—his connection with his cohort.
We sat down with Christensen and had a conversation about his time in the program, what led him there, and where he’s gone since. Currently, he is contracting with UMBC Special Collections and had a large hand in working with the Aperture Foundation, NYC and UMBC to present their recent show, Prison Nation.
A COLLABORATIVE PERSONAL PRACTICE
Christensen, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, was working as a web manager, staff photographer, and occasional writer for 15 bytes, an art magazine in Salt Lake City, during and after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in photography from Westminster College. He was connected to a frame shop through an editor from the magazine, and soon after, started interning there. This led him to working with a lot of local artists and galleries, and framing the work sparked his interest in the presentation of art. It was there that Christensen began to find passion in talking about art and collaborating with other artists.
“My personal practice became more collaborative with other photographers,” Christensen said. “I was looking towards curatorial work as it would be a way to blend my creativity and affinity for working with other artists with my professional writing skills.”
School was never necessarily about getting a job for him. It was an interest and it worked for his learning style, and was more about personal enrichment and not financial gain.
His thesis was both personal and professional rather than being just professionally based. Six months after graduating from MICA, he saw a post from local Baltimore artist and fabricator Seth Adelsberger about “New Standard,” a frame shop Adelsberger owned.
Christensen would help Adelsberger on an ad hoc basis with framing at the shop and in the gallery, “Resort,” which he ran with his partner, Alex Ebstein. Adelsberger’s self-taught framing style aligned with Jared’s apprentice style work in a way that really helped the two develop a broad and comprehensive approach towards framing. His personal practice and studies at MICA helped him hit the ground running with this work and he was eventually offered full time employment at New Standard.
He was still incredibly passionate about curatorial work and was continually searching for a position within that field until the pandemic hit.
During the pandemic he saw the frame shop ebb and flow in terms of business, picking up speed again by fall of 2020. An interest in framing as a creative practice again became apparent for him as the work was enriching, low stress, and flexible. Realizing this, he discontinued his official search for curatorial-specific work.
At the same time, he had begun working part time as the lead for design and framing for Beth Saunders, Curator and Head of Special Collections and Gallery for UMBC Special Collections at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery, and was facilitating those relationships as a networking opportunity. Saunders eventually reached out and offered him a position for part time gallery assistant because she said she felt confident that he could do all the work part-time, and he wanted to keep his work at the frame shop active.
Christensen had key realizations about his work flow and professional goals through these experiences.
Prison Nation at UMBC was pre-curated by Aperture, and he really enjoyed the labor aspect of actually installing the show. Preparator, install manager, and gallery assistant are all aspects of the work that he has found that he loves doing. He leans less towards administrative work and more towards the physical aspect of gallery work.
“Flexibility and variety are paramount in making my professional life enjoyable,” he said.
He enjoys the ability to have several projects going at once in addition to his personal practice, keeping him stimulated and able to move from project to project when he hits a roadblock with any of them. The emphasis that he leads with here is that his personal work and life come first, and his professional life is a secondary priority.
WORKING WITH A DIVERSE COHORT
Christensen believes that attending the Curatorial Practice program was one of the best decisions he’s ever made, and views the experience as holistic. Coming from Utah, graduate school in Baltimore felt like a pragmatic vehicle for moving out of state.
He values all of the professional advancements that he’s gotten from MICA but it’s really the personal takeaway that has outshined everything else for him. He feels that the experience and working with such a diverse cohort has made him a better person. Christensen credits the knowledge that he has gained not just to his instructors, but to his cohort an equal amount.
“When you’re in grad school,” he added “you feel more like a colleague to your professors than a student.”
The financial implication of coming to MICA was something we were interested in getting his perspective on for the sake of transparency, but also in the interest of addressing the understandable concerns that come along with the price tag for a private school’s MFA.
His take is that it’s important to address the price, but it’s a value analysis. In the CP program through the thesis work, students are responsible for every aspect of their thesis exhibition. If they need money they have to do fundraising, event coordination, grant application, etc. That practical knowledge of overseeing a curatorial project for him helped him identify and solidify aspects of the curatorial process that he’s more interested in than others.
“Among my favorite parts of the curatorial process is the design and installation of the exhibitions as well as the conversations with artists,” Christensen said.
‘SUPPORTING OTHER PEOPLE IN THEIR PURSUITS’
He thinks the program also brought in a lot of really great professionals. Curatorial Practice, among other MICA graduate programs, is still doing this.
Next week, they are hosting Puerto Rican born + Los Angeles based curator and writer, Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy and this is a consistent and engaging component of the program. These visiting artist lectures and critiques were an integral part of the program for him as they exposed him and his work to working professionals in the field.
“In the program we talked a lot in the first year about establishing our ‘curatorial values,’” he said.
He reflects on what makes him proud to be a curator, and he remembers the word “facilitation” showing up and loving the idea of connecting artists to each other and opportunities, whether those opportunities resided with him or with someone else.
“I love supporting other people in their pursuits,” Christensen said.
Recently, an artist in Salt Lake he had been following for a while was looking for opportunities outside of Utah. They did a virtual studio visit and then he was able to connect this artist with Baltimore opportunities. He loves the ability to lift others up through the process of curation. His MFA thesis exhibition, Become Again: Identity as a Process, exemplifies all of these processes and concepts that he keeps touching on,
“It was such a perfect blending of my personal and professional life and was a capstone for social interactions and personal and professional development,” Christensen said.
He got to oversee every little detail and all artists made new work for the show. Just based on the conversations that he had with his contributing artists (Mandy Chesney, Elliot Doughtie, Jasjyot Singh Hans and Nick Simko) through that experience, he feels like the collaboration was the ideal outcome of curatorial practice, and that collaboration is the most enriching and fulfilling process for the people he’s working with.
Christensen is still balancing his work with New Standard and UMBC along with his personal practice and other odd contracting or freelancing jobs. He’s living in Baltimore with his longtime partner and when asked, said he was eager to share some of the personal life that he prioritizes as part of the balance of life.
One of the things that drew him to curatorial practice was his own tendency towards collections, Christensen said. He has several collections within his home, most notably his life-long tchotchke collection. His own art also garnishes the walls of his home and he’s realized that the curation of his home space is important to him.
He is passionate about funding and uplifting other artists through purchasing and commissioning their art to expand his collection. His favorite personal piece is an abstract portrait that he purchased from artist Olivia Pendergast back in his Utah days, long before the move to MICA and Baltimore and long before meeting his partner, Ross. Coincidentally (or fatefully), the portrait shares an uncanny resemblance to that partner. The most recent thing he’s commissioned for his personal collection is a piece from fiber artist Becca Van K, which depicts Mount St. Helens through the medium of cross stitching.
Christensen really enjoys displaying art from his friends in his personal space, and it is clear that his passion for art and the advocacy for artists cannot be narrowed to any one aspect of the process. Jared has taken a metaphorical “mixed media” outlook on how he connects with art and artists and applied it as a professional manifesto, encouraging flexibility and balance to rise to the top. Before arriving in Baltimore, he expected the Curatorial Practice program to act as a liaison; to expand his network and qualify him for meaningful work in his chosen field.
In practice he realized, like many of us do, that the program was much less about the finite and measurable result of becoming a curator, and much more about the process of engaging in the curriculum and sitting in the reality of what it means to be an artist and curator in our artist community and in the world at large.