TOAST Magazine

In Conversation with Cara Courage, Head of Tate Exchange

ARTS & CULTURE

Anna Marazuela Kim meets the new Head of Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange, a unique space dedicated to public collaboration, experimentation and the discovery of new perspectives on life – through art.

Tell us about Tate Exchange

We are on the 5th level of the new addition to Tate Modern, the Blavatnik Building, where we occupy the entire floor. It's a live art space open to the public – not a performance space, but one where you'll see artwork in process. The overarching ethos of the space is quite big: to talk about art and society, what it's like to live today. Our core program is driven by a group of 60 diverse Associates – large and small arts’ organizations, universities with arts’ courses and engineering and maths, and a primary healthcare trust.

Does this inclusion of diverse constituencies reflect a new trend in museum practice?

This was certainly the intention when setting up the new space, that we support as wide a conversation as possible. And to recognise that art is not just done in the arts’ sector, but elsewhere and everywhere. It was also a decision to make the space interdisciplinary. The Associates have started to collaborate among themselves, and we’re beginning to see an interesting cross-fertilisation of ideas and practice.

Are there any models for this kind of public space in a museum?

There are a few in the social practice arts’ sector. The examples we were looking at came from outside. But there wasn't - and there isn't at the moment - a space of this type and size anywhere in the museum sector in the world.

What does it mean for Tate Modern to have Tate Exchange?

It's quite a bold statement. I think a lot of eyebrows were raised across the social practice sector when the space was first announced. It raised the question: if this is socially engaged work, how can this happen in the museum, because the museum is an institution - a white walls gallery space. Tate was asking of itself what its role was as an institution and went through a reflective process, to make the museum more permeable, I think, and to directly engage and to bring art into all the really difficult questions of society that we’re asking ourselves at the moment.

Do you think at this moment, when political space and process, social media and the news are under challenge, museums have a special role to play in addressing these questions?

I do, and I also think when we see artistic education being devalued, across policy and curricula, museums have a place to step in. Tate Exchange is a space to talk about political issues with a small p and a capital P, where some other institutions might move away from that particular debate. In the art collections, we know that these issues and questions will come up. This is a different space to come with the questions and responses to the artworks people see in the museum.

What new publics and participants would you like to bring together here?

Tate Exchange draws a younger and more diverse audience than the rest of Tate. We’re trying to break down some of the barriers to entering such a large, formidable institution. Last week a group with very challenging, severe physical and special educational needs was here. The floor became a big party - a space for them and their families to be together and to be creative together. There’s always an invitation to the public to get involved, and there were some very emotional and profound moments that day.

Given the richness of what's already occurred here, what do you hope to bring to this place, to actualize?

It's wonderful to come into a job when what I need to do is to build on the great work that's already happened. Tate Exchange is only two years old, and it's already created something that's really quite special. I’d like to do more work with older people, to see more science and tech coming into our space, and to explore how to bring in the individual practitioner. I also feel a responsibility to share our learning with others, and there are a number of partnerships with different institutions I'd like to nurture. Tate Exchange is both inside and outside the institution, and as a platform it's a safe space to say some very personal things, very activist things. What does this space offer for learning, going back to socially practiced arts? That's the thing I'm really keen to forge ahead with.

Now that gender parity is on the forefront of the public’s mind and movements, and now that Tate has both Francis Morris and Maria Balshaw as Directors, is Tate responding to a mandate for change?

It's a really complex and interesting question. I think Tate is on quite a journey, and I don't think that journey will ever stop. I work with a lot of women on the Tate team, incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated to the work they do, and among our Associates there a lot of women, and a lot of female students are involved in projects. So it’s a very strong female space, but certainly here at the Exchange, a very intersectional space as well.

Tate is reflective of a wider arts’ sector that needs to change. There need to be different voices in the sector, at all levels. I think Tate Exchange agitates some of that institutional change, not just within Tate, but elsewhere: other organisations and sectors are looking to us.

Words by Dr Anna Marazuela Kim. Images by Dr Anna Marazuela Kim and Tate Photography.


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