I Want Your Job: Vanessa Nicholas and Caroline Macfarlane, Community Curators
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I Want Your Job: Vanessa Nicholas and Caroline Macfarlane, Community Curators

The OCADU Student Gallery co-ordinators talk about giving a voice to the city's emerging artists.

I Want Your Job finds Torontonians who make a living doing exactly what they love to do, in any field, and for any salary, and asks them how they did it.

Caroline Macfarlane (left) and Vanessa Nicholas (right).

It’s been an ambitious year for OCADU Student Gallery programs co-ordinators Caroline Macfarlane and Vanessa Nicholas. Since kicking off the academic calendar with a multimedia show co-produced with the Music Gallery, they’ve overseen exhibitions of anonymous portraiture, furniture design, digital culture, and symbology. The gallery’s current exhibition, “Period Piece: The Gynolandscape,” subverts the male gaze by depicting the female body in its messy, unapologetic corporeality.

“We’re really excited to have that come together, since we’re both really interested in emerging feminist voices and this new wave of celebratory girl culture that’s happening right now,” says Nicholas.

The two have a history of merging the gallery space with outside culture: in 2011, they established the Good Bike Project, a public art initiative that plunked brightly painted abandoned bicycles in highly visible spots across the city. Later this spring, the two will launch an online magazine.

Macfarlane and Nicholas spoke with us about how they landed their OCADU positions, and what it means to be part of Toronto’s creative landscape.

Torontoist: Did you go to OCADU?

Vanessa Nicholas: No, neither one of us went to OCADU. We met as students at Queen’s. I was in fine arts and Caroline was doing an art history undergrad there. Then we both went and did our masters in art history separately and then I got hired on as an assistant. Then I was in the position to bring on a partner and hired Caroline. Because of strange circumstances and luck, it became a permanent position.

What got you into curation?

VN: When I was at Queen’s, I was a fine art student, but my extracurricular life was taken up working at the student gallery and then the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston. I found I was more excited and productive in my extracurricular work in gallery spaces than I was in the studio space, so I switched to do my masters in art history so that I could be more on the curating and programming end of things rather than producing. I found my strengths were more in bringing artists together and supporting artists than actually producing work, so I shifted gears.

Caroline Macfarlane: I’ve always been passionate about art. My mom is a designer, so without even really being aware of it, at an early age I was aware of the importance of space and art within space. In university, I didn’t start out majoring in art history, but all my electives were art history and it became clear that I should just make that my major. I decided that I wasn’t going to go into a curating program, but just continue learning about art and get curation work experience in galleries, and that worked out well for me.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

VN: Oh, so much. I love everything about this job. I love meeting creative people at the beginning of their careers. I love getting them to do things for the first time. I love the community aspect of our job, bringing people together and getting them excited about OCADU and their practices, and also the way that we’re able to expand people’s practices by connecting them with other people or connecting them with people in the larger community. It’s a lot of fun.

CM: I’d say too, what makes this job unique is that Vanessa and I both have a lot of different interests and passions, and we’re not very limited in what we do here. We’re throwing parties, we’re running events, we’re running workshops, we’re getting other artists to come in and run workshops, we’re doing curating and teaching students how to curate and install their own shows, and we do some curating off-site. It’s a job that allows us to explore a lot of different passions and interests. And because it’s a design and fine arts university, it’s also great because we’re dealing with environmental designers, industrial designers, graphic designers, painters, sculptors. It’s all over the place in a way that suits me, because I’m interested in so many different things.

VN: Being at OCADU is a limitless environment because you have the design and fine art aspects, so anything you want to do, you can bring a group of students together and make it happen.

How do the two of you work together?

CM: It’s kind of crazy. We work together but we’re also best friends, so we hang out together and party together. But it works. Vanessa has some skills that are stronger than mine and I’ve learned a lot from her, and vice versa.

VN: We both have very similar parallel interests and get excited about the same things, but we also expand each other because we also have separate interests that we can both take on together.

What are some of the issues concerning art in Toronto right now?

CM: I feel like we’ve been inserted into this community that comes through or out of OCADU that’s really exciting. I feel now, more than ever, like I’m a part of this exciting group of people doing amazing creative projects and who are also very dedicated to supporting one another and getting excited about what each other are doing.

VN: We’re excited about the Toronto community and its growth. But we’re also wary about the way the city is developing as well.

CM: Even this building is owned by a condo developer.

VN: Yeah, it’s gonna get torn down. So it’s kind of scary thinking about what’s going to happen next, because in the next two years Toronto’s going to change a lot.

CM: It’s becoming a harder city for artists to live in and thrive in, and it’s happening really fast. That’s scary. It’ll be unfortunate if Toronto artists have to move to Hamilton to make their art.