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Frank Talks

Laura Novoa – Curatorial + Public Programs Manager at the Bakehouse Art Complex

Laura Novoa is a curator and arts administrator based in Miami, FL. She works as Curatorial + Public Programs Manager at the Bakehouse Art Complex, where she is responsible for managing the studio residency and associate membership programs, as well as organizing and implementing a wide variety of public and exhibition-related programming. She has previously held positions at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid, Spain), and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum (Miami, FL). She holds an MA in Curating from the University of Essex (Colchester, UK), where she co-curated the exhibition (C)overt Corporeality and was awarded the Thomas Puttfarken Dissertation Prize. She has an undergraduate degree in Art History and Communications from Saint Louis University – Madrid. 

What was your first job in the Arts? 

My first job in the arts was an internship in the Collections Department at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum (part of Florida International University). 

What was the most useful or important thing you learned at that job?

Working as an intern in a small university museum was invaluable. Not only did I acquire hands-on experience within the Collections Department, but I was also given the opportunity to assist a variety of other departments, including the curatorial and education departments. In a small museum, there are opportunities for growth if you seek them out. This first job taught me to be flexible, adaptable, and open to the unexpected. 

Tell us a little more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?

When I first started university, I decided to major in Communications, thinking I wanted to become a journalist. As part of my general requirements, I took an Art History course and from that moment, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts. 

Throughout my time in college, I was set on becoming a museum curator. Since then, my perspective and goals have shifted and now I have focused on pursuing a career that allows me to work more closely with artists on a day-to-day basis. 

What do you do now? 

Currently, I work as the Curatorial + Public Programs Manager at the Bakehouse Art Complex, a nonprofit organization in Miami that provides artists with studio spaces, art-making facilities, and other resources.  

My role involves a large variety of tasks and responsibilities, but the curatorial and programmatic aspects are the ones I enjoy the most. This fall, I am looking forward to co-curating an exhibition with visual artist Edouard Duval-Carrie, as well as facilitating a program, in partnership with local poetry festival organization, O, Miami, that organizes art and poetry workshops for the students of PACE Center for Girls.

Where are you from? 

I am from Miami, born and raised. 

What is the arts community like there? 

I think the Miami arts community is dynamic. As a city that sits at the intersection of the United States, Latin America, and Caribbean, our community is home to an extraordinary melting pot of artists. Our institutions have demonstrated extraordinary resilience over the years, but especially over the past year and a half. 

In some ways, I find that the arts community in Miami is still evolving, trying to make itself known, beyond the reference point of Art Basel and Miami Art Week. There is a rebellious and subversive spirit emanating from local artists and institutions that produces interesting, challenging, and relevant work. 

Has where you come from shaped what you do in the arts today?

I left Miami after high school and was hesitant about coming back eight years later, because I didn’t think I would have any opportunities to seriously pursue an arts career here. But, the city and its artists have proven me wrong and the last four years have shaped my vision of what I do as a curator and arts administrator. Moving back to Miami instigated a change in my professional mindset, spurring my interest in working more directly with artists.  

What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?

Surround yourself with colleagues and peers that will help you succeed by establishing networks that prioritize care, community, and collaboration.

What is one of the greatest accomplishments in your career so far?

In May 2020, my colleague Luna Goldberg and I organized an Instagram-mediated relief auction to support local artists affected by the pandemic. All funds were equally split between participating artists in an effort to build a collective sense of communal well-being and to create a more democratic and participatory experience for artists and audiences alike.

I recently finished coordinating the second edition of a twelve-week program called Summer Open at Bakehouse Art Complex, where I work, which gives a group of local artists free workspace to support their practices. The selected artists utilize the largest exhibition space as a communal studio and have access to shared artmaking facilities and opportunities to foster relationships and engage with the organization’s community of artists. 

What has been a challenge for you?

I think one of my biggest challenges is establishing a healthy work-life balance, which is a major issue across the arts nonprofit field.

What is one of the weirdest things you have had to do on the job in your career?

When I was working in the Public Programs Department at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, visual artists and activists Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens gave a performative lecture around their recently published book, Assuming the Ecosexual Position. Part of their program involved marrying the Earth in a ceremony that took place right across the museum at El Retiro (Madrid’s equivalent to Central Park). As the only fluent English speaker in the department, I was tasked with assisting Sprinkle and Stephens during their week-long stay. Acting as a witness in their wedding ceremony was one of the most bizarre and entertaining things I have done. 

What do you think defines a good employee? And what defines a good boss?

A good employee is someone that is responsible, adaptable, and organized. A good boss is someone that supports and elevates their employees, delegates fairly, and has the capacity to listen. The relationship between an employee and a boss should be one defined by mutual respect, open communication, and a willingness to work towards a shared goal, even when opinions differ. 

What is your advice for making yourself stand out in your workplace? 

I think someone that shows dedication and commitment to their job, whatever that is, will always be noticed. 

Is there any advice you would like to give people entering the art world?

Be open to opportunities that come your way and don’t immediately limit yourself to one track or department; you might find fulfillment in the place you least expect. 

What are the best exhibitions you have seen recently?

The best exhibitions I have seen recently are Alice Neel: People Come First at the Met and the Julie Mehretu retrospective at The Whitney, both of which I saw on a quick weekend trip to New York. It was empowering to see career retrospectives by two women artists, both uniquely attuned to their time, yet undeniably universal. 

Locally, I really enjoyed The Bass’s long-term exhibition Open Storage, which showcases a diverse and eclectic selection of their permanent collection. 

If you could own a work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?

The answer to this question changes all the time, but right now, I would say: Kerry James Marshall, specifically one of his Vignettes, Ana Mendieta, as many of her Siluetas as I could get my hands on, Rothko, Kandinsky, and Miami-based artist Reginald O’Neal. 

How do you think art can play a fundamental role in the world’s recovery from COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many failures in our economic, political, and public health systems — systems that prioritize short-term fixes and exacerbate inequality. I think artists, both through their practice and their work, have the capacity to envision more humane ways of relating to each other. 

This question brings to mind the artist relief auction I organized and how all participating artists unconditionally supported splitting the proceeds equally. This way of thinking — of prioritizing shared resources, communal well-being, and civic responsibility — would undoubtedly be helpful in finding solutions to worldwide issues, including COVID-19 recovery efforts. 

What artwork is/was in your home office?

I have a work by Jenny Brillhart from her series Floors and Days (2019). It’s a work that evokes a sense of stillness that is oftentimes missing from my hectic day-to-day. 

What was your greatest WFH challenge? Or a WFH luxury you don’t want to lose ever again?

During the pandemic, I only worked from home for approximately two months, but, personally, I prefer the separation between the home space and the work space. I find it challenging to focus on work in a space that is defined by family, friends, and leisure. 

How has your current job adapted to the new virtual landscape? What do you think can be done better, if anything?

Most of our public programming migrated to virtual platforms, which in some ways made it more accessible to audiences who wouldn’t necessarily have the time or the ability to participate or attend our programming in person. That being said, ZOOM fatigue is real and after a year of virtual programming, our artists and audiences are craving in-person experiences. Going forward, I am definitely interested in finding the right balance between programming for virtual and physical spaces. 

It can be argued that the art world has finally been forced to adopt and adapt technologies that have long been a part of other industries. Agree or Disagree?

I agree but with reservations. In some ways, virtual programming can be more accessible than traditional public programming models. However, I don’t think seeing artwork on a screen compares with seeing it in person; interacting with an artist during a studio visit on ZOOM doesn’t compare with having a face-to-face conversation in their workspace. 

Both making and experiencing art are very human things. Art should be seen, understood, challenged, questioned by and with people. In my opinion, the art world shouldn’t be dictated by technology; rather, it should be considered just one of the many avenues used by institutions to prioritize people and find ways to make art spaces more accessible.

And finally, do you think the art world should be more transparent?

Yes, absolutely. I think this last year has shown that the art world is being held accountable for its role in exacerbating inequality and injustice. Being more transparent means that you open yourself up to criticism but ultimately, it’s the only way to truly become responsive and relevant to the needs of people today.

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