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A Q&A with UB curator Rachel Adams

Rachel Adams, who began her tenure as associate curator for the University at Buffalo Art Galleries in March, is determined to introduce new artists to Buffalo.

In one important respect, she's already accomplished that: Her husband, Nicholas Conrad Miller, recently completed a striking mural as part of a community cultural project at the WASH Project on the Massachusetts Avenue.

Adams replaces former UB curator Sandra Firmin, who left town last year for a position at the University of Colorado at Boulder Art Museum. In her role, she will oversee programming at the university's main gallery in the Center for the Arts and also curate exhibitions for the Anderson Gallery in University Heights. She comes to Buffalo after curatorial stints at the Contemporary Austin and the Portland, Ore. art space Disjecta. She has a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an M.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Adams said she is motivated chiefly by a desire to work directly with artists, something she has in common with former Albright-Knox Art Gallery director Louis Grachos, under whom she worked at the Contemporary Austin. Her plans for Buffalo include ambitious projects that tie together contemporary art, architecture and the landscape, and that try to connect the work of the university and its many academic departments with the broader community.

In a recent conversation, she talked about her first impressions of Buffalo's diverse visual arts community, her ideas for future exhibitions and projects and one specific plan to float a Viking ship in Lake Lasalle on UB's Amherst Campus:

Question: Tell me a bit about UB's big fall exhibitions.

Answer: Well, at the Center for the Arts, there is a group exhibition called “Splitting Light.” It’s a 10-person group show about color, and color as structure. With that show, I’m having a piece here [at the UB Anderson Gallery] for a couple of days to coincide with the fall exhibitions that we’ll have here, which is Robert DeNiro Sr. and Barbara Insalaco, and some other faculty work, along the lines of when Robert DeNiro Sr. was teaching here.

I’m trying to do more public art in general on campus ... we’re also installing a Sam Falls bench in the engineering department in Davis Hall, which is our newest, most beautiful building. I just had a meeting over there to figure out where it’s going to go. It’s part of "Splitting Light," a public art component. But it’s actually a bench that changes color, it’s thermochromatic tiles, so if you sit on it, [it turns] pink and purple and teal.

Q: What about the opportunity to come here interested you?

A: Honestly, I think a little bit had to do with the fact that Louis spoke so highly of Buffalo. I didn’t actually tell him I had the job until a bit into the process. For me, I hadn’t worked in a university environment, and it was something that I was definitely interested in. I’ve had a lot of colleagues that have done amazing work working for university galleries and museums. I like to collaborate a lot with people, so [I like the idea of] having that built-in: Different departments that I can work with very easily and that are excited about what’s going on was definitely part of the appeal.

Q: Tell me a little bit about what drives you as a curator and the specific areas you’re interested in that might distinguish you from your predecessor or from any other curator in America?

A: That’s a hard question. I really just love working with artists, so most of the projects I will be doing here will bring in new people to Buffalo that have never maybe shown here before or it’s been a long time. I like to kind of mix things up, and the fall show will have a lot of different mediums in it, so it’s not just something very strict.

I don’t have a sort of area of research. I don’t have a PhD, so there’s not something very specific, but I work in a lot of video and I work in a lot of installation and I’m really interested in architecture. So there will always be a sort of special and structural component to what I’m working on, but then also again really trying to engage the campus and the community is something I’m focused on since I did public programs for so long.

Q: Tell me more about your view of public programming. I’m curious how you think of your role in terms of acting as a bridge between the university and the community.

A: I really want the UB galleries to kind of be a hub of creativity. It already does that with anthropology, and they’ve worked with architecture before. So I’m working on a winter/spring show, which will be Ragnar Kjartansson, who is an Icelandic artist and we’re bringing his nine-channel video piece, which is about an hour long. And we’re working on – funding is the big issue at this point, and logistics – but working on bringing his piece called the “S.S. Hangover,” which is a Viking fishing boat from the 1930s that actually is or will be in the lake outside of the CFA, and it’ll a performance piece that happens for about a month, weather-permitting.

The idea is to work with musicians from the music school and the costume department, and we’re working with Student Life and the people that run the lake and special events and bringing in all of these collaborations to make this happen and make it a campus-wide event.

Q: After four months, what is your impression of Buffalo and the art scene in particular?

A: I’ve been having a great time getting to know it. I’ve been trying to do a studio visit at least once a week when I’m here. It’s been great getting to know people, artists and just in general the institutions here, like CEPA and the Burchfield-Penney and Albright and all of those things. And BT&C Gallery, which has been doing really great things. Part of what I love to do is get to know people and meet with them… I feel like I’m just kind of at the tip of the iceberg, so it’s something that I will continue always to do.

Part of my job is to constantly be a sounding board for people and be open to hearing what they’re working on, and I’m always excited when I get to do that. I love working with artists. I’m married to one. It’s kind of like my whole life.

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