Cathy Breslaw's Installation

Cathy Breslaw's Installation
Cathy Breslaw's Installation:Dreamscape

Monday, July 2, 2012

Behind the Scenes Conversations: Karen McGuire, Curator of Exhibitions, William D. Cannon Gallery

Behind the Scenes Conversations:

article by Cathy Breslaw

Karen McGuire, Curator of Exhibitions,

William D. Cannon Art Gallery, Carlsbad,CA
From the moment I sat down for an interview with Karen McGuire, I could sense the joy she has for her work. Karen has been the Curator of Exhibitions for William D. Cannon Art Gallery since 1999. Having been a resident of the Carlsbad/Encinitas area for many years and a frequent visitor to the adjacent Carlsbad Dove Library, I have often had the pleasure of stopping in to the gallery. I have always enjoyed the wide range of work in these exhibitions so talking with Karen was an opportunity to learn more about the person orchestrating and implementing all these exhibitions.

Part of why I enjoy interviewing people engaged in the art community, is to understand the source of their passion for the arts. Karen traces her love of drawing back to early childhood. Her father who was an amateur artist, gave her an oil paint set when she was in kindergarten. This opened the door to years of making art. Later attending a community college in Orange County, Karen took several studio classes. Her goal of becoming an artist continued until life intervened when she married, had children and began an eighteen year stint helping run some family restaurants in southern California. After her marriage ended, Karen returned to school at Cal State Fullerton where she completed a B.A. in Art History and an MFA in the Exhibition Design and Museum Studies program.

Karen’s motivation for her transition from making art to curating exhibitions came from a Museum Studies class she took at Saddleback College. Karen lends credit to her instructor, Patricia Levin, for introducing her to the idea of becoming a curator and, together with her art history background, realizing she was well suited to this career path. When she completed her masters degree, Karen was invited by Bill Riley, another instructor at Saddleback College, to teach Art History and Art Appreciation and to run the college’s art gallery. Though she was not paid for this position, it was a good chance to become knowledgeable about the workings of a public gallery. At the end of two years, Karen was hired full time and she continued as gallery director for another three years.

Life intervened again - In 1999, she saw a listing for an open position as Gallery Director of the new William D. Cannon Art Gallery and with some hesitation, she applied for it. She is very happy she did because Karen has continued as Curator of Exhibitions for the past 13 years. When she first began, the gallery hosted seven exhibitions but it has been reduced to five to offer a longer opportunity for more people to visit the exhibitions. One exhibition each year is a travel exhibition. Karen told me “ I wanted to bring the world to Carlsbad” and that she did - there have been thirty-three countries represented in the 13 year history of the gallery. Though the gallery has exhibited a wide range of media, she admits an affinity for Latin American and folk art. As with many public institutions, she says the gallery’s biggest challenge has been with budget constraints however, Karen feels fortunate to be working for a city that values the arts. The Gallery Advisory plays a large role in suggesting exhibitions and along with the Arts Office staff developed a vision statement for the gallery in which Karen takes into consideration when making decisions for future exhibitions.

Though the gallery’s exhibition plan is complete through 2014, there is one show reserved every two years for a biennial - open to San Diego County artists. Karen insists on it, and believes it gives many local area artists a wonderful chance to have their work be seen by the greater community. Karen selects outside jurors for these exhibitions, and last year’s show had sixty artists represented. From this group, Karen selects five artists for a group exhibition, providing them the opportunity to exhibit a larger body of work and having it documented with a full color catalog.

When we talked about the challenges for San Diego artists, Karen was very encouraging. Surprised by the small number of artist proposals she receives, Karen welcomes artist proposals and packets (no web links please!) which she believes should include a CD or Xerox of images, a short artist statement and CV. Contrary to many curators and exhibition directors, she does not believe that exhibition history or formal education is critical claiming that “the work speaks for itself”, and, that “older” work may be better and more relevant than an artist’s “new” work.

We discussed the closings of some good San Diego galleries in the past few years, yet Karen remains very optimistic.

She sees a lot of good work being made by San Diego artists and put it this way - “San Diego’s art community is not down for the count”.

Cathy Breslaw is a southern California visual artist, writer and lecturer who has had over 25 solo exhibitions, and 50 group exhibitions across the country at museums, art centers, college and university galleries and commercial galleries. Her work can be found in many private and corporate collections.
Her work and writing can be seen at:                                                                                         











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