New Jersey curator Mary Birmingham looks back on her on terrifying exit from and successful reentry into the art world. Birmingham also explains the importance of art networks and her own emphasis on diversity, balance, and audience development.
“For a contemporary curator, someone who’s working with contemporary artists as opposed to dead artists, you are providing the material that I need to do my job. I cannot do my job without my relationships with artists. I need that raw material. … The truth is, contemporary curators need artists. You just have to hope they need you at a particular time or moment.”
Mary Birmingham is Curator of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. Born in the suburbs of Boston, Birmingham moved to New Jersey with her family as a teenager. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Seton Hall University, New Jersey before moving to New York City to attend New York University for graduate school, though she subsequently dropped out to begin work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Birmingham paused her career in order to start a family back in New Jersey, but ten years later she enrolled at Hunter College to complete her graduate Art History degree. She became active in the art world again by writing, curating independently, and teaching adjunct class at Montclair State University and Kean University before taking on a position in the curatorial department at the Montclair Art Museum. Birmingham worked at the museum for nine years before moving on to the Hunterdon Art Museum and then the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in 2011.