A conversation with Tacoma Art Museum curators

“A curator (from Latin: curare meaning ‘take care’) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage or institution (e.g., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collection and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.” From Wikipedia

The Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) currently has two curators on staff, with a third one soon to come on board. Rock Hushka, who has been at TAM for 11.5 years is its Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art. His colleague, Margaret Bullock, has been at TAM for 5.5 years and serves as Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. They graciously took time in a busy day to discuss the many aspects of their work and backgrounds.
It is only recently that a few educational institutions have offered degrees in curatorial work. So, there had been no straight academic avenue that would qualify a person as a curator. Nevertheless at different times and places there are similarities in backgrounds of our two curators.
For Margaret this included the fact that art was important in family life, regardless of where they were. At an early age she learned that art was more than just a picture in a book; it was an experience, an understanding. Her undergraduate degrees were in English literature and art history. She spent some time working in the field and earned a Masters in Anthropology as well as in Art History. Before coming to TAM she did curatorial work in Taos, New Mexico and Portland. Her obvious enthusiasm for scholarly research makes her a good match for the long-range goals at TAM.
Hushka has worn many hats, to include being both an artist (fiber arts– creating some public interest when he used his own blood in one of his fiber art pieces) and curator. He earned numerous degrees: B.A., History; B.A., Art History; B.F.A. and an M.A., Art History degree awarded May, 1994. He has variously lectured and reviewed and has been published in journals. His fiber art has been part of group exhibits and curated shows. Before coming to TAM Hushka worked with curatorial staff at the Seattle Art Museum and in collections at the Henry.
In addition to appreciating the depth and breadth of scholarship and experience of our two curators, I was struck by their genuine sense of excitement and purpose. Hushka talked about TAM as a “magical place” that presents “fascinating and complex projects.” Bullock added the fact that the exhibits and collections tell a story and educate the viewer. It is rewarding to sense the excitement that is generated when those goals are met. She used the response to the Norman Rockwell show as a case in point. They both spoke to the fact that they often interface with the city, especially with Amy McBride, and collaborate whenever it is possible. “Don’t forget,” added Hushka,“that it is so important to see beauty every day.” Agreeing with him, Bullock said that every day at TAM not only affords that beauty but also is charged with a congenial sense of purpose as they work with other staff members and the community.
Some portion of that work during the last three-plus years has been putting together TAM’s first book, Best of the Northwest: Selected Works From Tacoma Art Museum. During its entire history, TAM has focused its work and resources on Northwest artists. This catalogue of more than 230 images will debut in March with introductory essays in which Hushka and Bullock outline and trace the history, to include new research and interpretation of some of the major works in the collection. The work of previous curators and directors will be included, as well as biographies of all the represented artists. As of this writing, the book was at the printers and will arrive on the shelves of the Museum Store in mid-March.

"The Storm Watch," by Barbara Earl Thomas, is among the works in "Best of the Northwest: Selected Works from Tacoma Art Museum." (TAM/courtesy photo)
“The Storm Watch,” by Barbara Earl Thomas, is among the works in “Best of the Northwest: Selected Works from Tacoma Art Museum.” (TAM/courtesy photo)