5th Annual Curatorial Workshop

On curating difficult content: Reconciling an ethics of care with artistic freedom 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023
10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Creative Capital
15 Maiden Lane, 18th Floor
New York, NY

Deadline for applications: October 15, 2023, 11:59 p.m. EDT


In recent years, a renewed focus on “care” has emerged in curatorial practice, and consequently, within arts institutions. Renowned feminist psychologist and ethicist Carol Gilligan describes the ethic of care as one that is “grounded in voice and relationships, in the importance of everyone having a voice, being listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect.” She elaborates, “An ethics of care directs our attention to the need for responsiveness in relationships (paying attention, listening, responding) and to the costs of losing connection with oneself or with others.” 

Care emphasizes compassion, empathy and relationships. For curators and art institutions, an ethic of care implies their accountability to broader audiences and creators. It infers a duty to create responsible and responsive programming, and having an awareness of social contexts and the needs of diverse audiences.  

It also, at times, complicates commitments to other values. What happens to the freedom to ask difficult questions, to examine contested subjects, to experiment—to make mistakes, even—when some critics claim that doing so is hurtful, causes offense, contributes to trauma, or compromises institutional positions? The apparent conflicts between an ethics of care and artistic freedom are undoubtedly complex, and challenging to navigate–moreover, such circumstances are often exacerbated by institutional power dynamics and the influence of funders and trustees, which can also restrict how curators are able to discuss issues publicly.

Calls to include and be responsive to voices from historically-marginalized communities are sometimes accompanied by demands for the postponement or cancellation of exhibitions, or the removal of specific works. Critically, attempts to forge solutions are often further confounded by the fact that the affected communities themselves are not homogenous, and have dissenting opinions among them. 

Through speaker presentations and group discussions examining specific case studies (which may include exhibitions that have come under pressure in relation to specific geopolitical histories and conflicts, the presentation of Indigenous objects, references to racial violence, etc.), The Arts & Culture Advocacy Program’s 5th Curatorial Workshop will propose strategies to address the specific challenges curators and institutions face when attempting to balance an ethics of care with artistic freedom in their programs.

This day-long workshop offers curators the opportunity to discuss, among colleagues and with experts, the challenges of organizing and presenting exhibitions containing controversial work. 

Seminar leaders include Sara Reisman, Chief Curator / Director of National Academician Affairs and former Executive and Artistic Director at the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation,  Radhika Subramaniam, Associate Professor of Visual Culture in the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons School of Design where she was also the first Director/Chief Curator of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center (SJDC) at The New School from 2009-2017, and Terence Washington, Manager of Civic Engagement and Programs at the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, and former Guest Curator at the MFA Boston where he co-curated the Philip Guston Now exhibition.

Application process

The workshop is open to early and mid-career curators  and gallery directors- both independent and those working within institutions. The workshop is limited to 25 participants.

In the application, each participant must submit: 

  1. A brief statement of interest;
  2. A case study proposal (a conflict/controversy you are interested in discussing, whether you were immediately involved in it or not. Due to the nature of the topic and for confidentiality reasons, you may opt to change the names of individuals and institutions).  
  3. A resumé.

Upon acceptance, confirmed participants must remit a non-refundable participation fee of $75. 

Please submit all materials via this form, by October 15, 2015

Applicants will be notified of their acceptance by October 20-25, 2023.

The workshop is organized by the Arts & Culture Advocacy Program at the National Coalition Against Censorship in partnership with Creative Capital. 

For further information, please contact: 

Elizabeth Larison, [email protected]

Aliza Shvarts,  [email protected]