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Ways We Work

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Erin Kjaer

Curator and Co-Founder of Nest Collective and Studios

Erin Kjaer is the Curator and Co-Founder of Nest Collective and Studios located at Queen and Dufferin in Downtown Toronto.

What do you do?

I run Nest Collective and Studios. Nest is an artist collective located at Queen and Dufferin in Toronto. As the Director of the collective, I keep the wheels turning at the studio while also trying to find ways for us to engage with the community at large. For example, right now we are part of a residency with Artscape Youngplace, where we’ve had four exhibitions so far, with two more in the Fall. We’re going to be running a series of workshops and lectures throughout the summer months which will ideally be headed by members of the collective, but we are open to reaching out into the community as well.

Basically, the way that I describe myself is as a curator and facilitator. In my personal practice as a curator, I am writing, researching and working on various projects with artists both in and out of the collective. On a day-to-day level, I am facilitating the goings on at Nest. As a facilitator I try to manage the studio environment and make sure everyone has what they need, while also trying to facilitate the artists individual goals for their practice and the goals we all have as a collective. That’s anything from making sure that no one has to deal with property management, or insurance, and all of the paperwork that goes with being an artist: helping people write artist statements, grant applications, setting up residencies and providing opportunities for artists to show their work.

How did you end up getting into working in a collective?

I’ve always been really interested in curatorial practice and the idea of collective culture, but that wasn’t necessarily what I built my education and career towards. I was in the New Media program at Ryerson University and while in my third and fourth year my studies began to steer things more towards a curatorial focus. When I moved back to the city after being gone for a while I was lucky to stumble across a friend who was opening up a gallery and collective, called Creatures Creating. I asked him if he needed help and I started out interning for Creatures, helping with events and other things related to the gallery. Eventually I was doing all of the administrative work and by the following April I was working as the Director there, managing mostly the collective and the things happening inside the space.

There was a really unfortunate break-in at the space and some of the artists work had been stolen, which eventually led to Creatures closing. When that happened, myself and the artists who I had connected with during my time there decided to try and set up a new space. About a year ago now, along with the help of one of our members and co-founder Stella Cade, we started the initiative that would become Nest.

What do you find most rewarding about your role? Most challenging?

It’s amazing to put on a show and know that you’ve curated it in a way that has truly highlighted everyone’s work. I love it when you can see how happy all of the artists are, and to know that the public is really engaged with it all. Receiving positive feedback and knowing that you’re reaching people in the community is super rewarding.

What I find really challenging about the position is essentially being self-employed and not having the type of direction that I feel like I would have working for someone else. I try to check in with the collective regularly so we move forward in the right way. In terms of getting things done, not having a boss can sometimes make it hard to know exactly which opportunities to focus on in order to achieve the most growth.

How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry/field?

I try as best as I can to do it in the physical realm. I find with the local art community, one of the biggest things is being “that person” who everyone knows because you’re at all of the events. Making those connections in person is really important, especially because that’s what you want when you’re putting on an exhibition. If you want people to come to your events and shows, you need to be there for the other people who are working in the city. So I find going out and being present in the art community is really the number one way of staying on top of what’s going on.

I also rely really heavily on Twitter, to keep up to date with news and happenings, and to a lesser extent Facebook. I’m not good at Facebook: I hate it, but it makes keeping on top of which events are going on a lot easier.

What are your top five applications or tools?

Google Drive - I’m a huge fan of Google Drive. I use it for everything. I find I move around to a lot of different places all the time for meetings and studio visits. Being able to access all of my files and whip up a document really quickly is so handy. All of my artists can access spreadsheets, and we can all update them from wherever we are.

Twitter - This is pretty much the first thing I do in the morning. I check my feed to see what’s going on and I’ll make notes on things that are happening or that I need to explore further.

To-do List - I make a to-do list about a hundred times a day. I write so many, usually just on a piece of paper. Now I’m starting to put them into Google Keep because I find the application really easy and I can access it from anywhere.

Gmail - All of my emails come through here making it really easy. I never delete anything, because then I know I have an archive of everything I’ll ever need, which is great.

Evernote - Recently I’ve been trying to downgrade all of my paper products. I’m always collecting tiny bits of scrap paper, to-do notes, business cards etc. I’ve started trying to compile them all into Evernote but it’s something I’m still getting used to. So far it’s helping.

Best way to stay on top of email?

I’m good at email in that I’ll never have unread emails in my Inbox. If I see an email come in, I always answer it straight away or read it straight away. Sometimes though I find I’ll get distracted from other tasks because I want to respond to the message first. So what I’ve been trying to do is set blocks of time during the day where I know I’m going to go through and answer all of my emails. Currently I’m answering emails in the morning, once in the afternoon and then again at the end of my day. We’ll see how it goes!

What is your best time-saving trick?

Probably scheduling my day. If I don’t have a to-do list of the things I want to get done, I will get very distracted. There are always so many other things going on around me. One of the great things about working in a shared studio is that there are always people there to bounce ideas off of, but that also means that there are 8 other people’s things going on that you can get distracted with. So when I have a to-do list I can prioritize and get all of those things done a lot faster than if I don’t actually have a schedule plotted out.

What does your workspace look like?

Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?

omething that makes some of my scheduling strange is that I’m also a baker in the mornings for a local cafe, so a few days out of the week I’m actually up early in the morning baking at 4am! This changes how the rest of my day will flow. On those mornings, I bake from 4am to 7am, I’ll then come home, drink coffee and eat breakfast while I go through my morning routine of checking my email, going through my Twitter feed and then deciding what to add to my calendar and to-do list for the day. I’ll head into the studio and start off by touching base with everyone and seeing if they need help with any projects, if they do then I’ll add that into my list of daily tasks. The rest of my day usually involves applying for different grants, doing research, writing curatorial proposals and other various things.

Why do you do what you do? What makes everything worth it?

I feel like working in art is really important, for a lot of reasons. What brought me to administration and facilitation as opposed to working solely on my personal practice is that I can see and feel the struggles that come with working in art within the city. I know how hard it is to balance a day job with your artistic practice and having to think about monetizing, while worrying about how to apply for grants. These are all things that require a lot of time, but research and writing are things that I’m really good at and enjoy. It made sense to reach out to people who were in my community and people who I believed in to see if I could help in those areas. I also think that collective culture is really important, so being able to facilitate those connections between artists in the community is really rewarding.

What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received from anybody was from a Professor in University. She told me not to stop being funny. As a woman in the arts, or even in general, when most of the people you’re interviewing with or working for are men you feel this pressure to be really serious. A lot of the time young women feel like they’re not going to be taken seriously unless they are hyper-efficient or super intelligent and stern and right to the point, like there’s no room for frivolity. So she told me, “you’re so funny and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you need to tone that down or that it’s not professional, because it’s what makes you who you are”. I’ve always tried to keep that in mind.

Who would you like to see featured on Ways We Work?

I think another Ryerson New Media alumni, like Ashley Lewis, would be really interesting. She’s doing some really cool things and I feel like she’s the embodiment of someone that comes out of New Media and really goes for it. She’s an artist, a maker and works in so many different capacities, I think she’d be great.