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Hello, Jesse!

I was born in Vancouver, Canada, and have lived my whole life there until now. I have degrees in History and Education; I’ve been working as a teacher for about three years in Canada, but I’ve moved to Amsterdam seeking to do a Master’s in Curating Art and Cultures at UvA, starting September 2019. I came here ahead of time for a change of scenery, to intern at SAMA and establish myself a bit before diving into graduate studies.

What can you tell us about Vancouver?

Vancouver is okay. Culturally, I think it’s a bit scared of taking risks or trying anything new that other cities haven’t already thoroughly established as cool. But it’s a safe, stable place to grow up, with a nice view of the mountains and ocean.

What is your favourite activity/the things you like to do during your free time?

Since finishing university in 2015, I’ve spent most of my free time traveling around Europe and South America, and playing music. I spent the last three years playing in two bands, and was pretty involved in the music scenes in Vancouver. I ended up spending most of my free time in this period rehearsing, organizing and promoting nights, helping friends run events, or rehearsing, recording, and playing shows with my bands.

What fascinates you the most about the city? About Nieuw-West?

I’m just three weeks in to my life in Amsterdam, so I’m still familiarizing myself with the city and culture in general. Coming from Vancouver, Canada, I am very impressed and inspired by the richness and diversity of the cultural sector in Amsterdam, and I also really like how localized all of the neighbourhoods feel, with bars, cafes, food stores, etc, seeming to be in every area for the people who live there – not just concentrated in cores and separated by huge chunks of suburbia like in North America.

I am interested in spending more time in Nieuw West and learning more about the communities there. Because counter cultures tend to pop up in lower-income areas which are more affordable and less scrutinized by government, police, gentrification, and tourism needs, I’d be excited to learn about whether there are any subcultures happening out in Nieuw West, or in the outskirts of Amsterdam in general – especially punk or metal scenes.

I also have an academic background in postcolonial studies, anti-racism, and migration history, so I’m excited about the possibility of getting to work with and learn from migrant communities in framing some of SAMA’s activities over the next few months. I’m interested in learning about experiences of migration, acceptance and racism in Dutch society, experiences of inclusion and othering, and essentially just learning about life from others with drastically different backgrounds and experiences from my own. I’m not sure if I will actually be able to do any of this at SAMA or whether it would contribute to its mission in any way, but I like the idea of finding a way to integrate research in these areas into my work at SAMA anyway.

What is your relation towards street art? Art in general?

I was first exposed to street art on a large scale while I was in Chile. I spent about a week in Santiago, then about ten days in Valparaiso. Every inch of Valparaiso is covered in giant murals, and I was really floored by how much it changed and beautified the city. If I’m not wrong, I think Chile had a long tradition of mostly politically-rooted street art that was violently repressed during the Pinochet years. After his dictatorship ended, all the artists just sprung back into painting, and it became essentially impossible to keep up with cleaning up after grafiteros, so the city of Valparaiso made graffiti legal. Which made Valparaiso into a cultural centre in the southern cone of South America.

What was even cooler to see, was how the street art culture percolated out to other areas of visual arts, music and food, totally transforming the city to feel extremely cultural and bohemian, without being overly gentrified or touristy (outside of a few localized tourist zones). It just seemed as though Valparaiso’s old working-class culture existed alongside an incredibly diverse cultural scene. Every night I was there, I would wander between stages that had bands with full guitars/amps/drums and sound systems, outdoor barbecues, theatre performances, and all night drinking and eating chaos in the streets after the bands were finished playing. So, I suppose to answer the question succinctly, I’m both interested in the insurrectionary, unsanctioned nature of street art (as an ex-punk kid), as well as the degree of cultural change and openness it can bring if it’s allowed to flourish on its own from the bottom up, and isn’t co-opted by investors or the state.

Regarding art more generally, I’m inspired by most modern art before 1930, and am developing an interest in contemporary art. I’m spending a lot of my free time trying to self-educate in art history to prepare for the master’s in curatorial studies that I’m hoping to start in September.

In your opinion what’s the most interesting aspect of Street Art?

I think the most interesting thing about it is probably explained above. I’m interested in the self-motivated, self-defining, unsanctioned, insurrectionary way in which graffiti and street art have functioned until recently. I’m interested in its frequent engagement and confrontation with social issues that many people in the mainstream aren’t comfortable with or prepared to talk about, and highlighting/making visible marginalized people’s presences, issues and identities.

Do you have a favourite artist in the SAMA collection?

I really like OakOak’s work for the way it transforms mundane urban surroundings and pushes viewers to be more aware and observant about the spaces around them. They’re all such simple works, but they really push you to reconsider the public, urban space, how it can be used, for what purpose, and how individuals fit within the public. I also find it to push a feeling of uncertainty and unfamiliarity in how to react to and interact with a mundane object that has been repurposed as an art piece. I like anything that makes people question, reflect and reconsider.

What’s the reason why you’re here at SAMA?

I was looking for an internship to better prepare for my master’s at UvA, to get a bit of experience in the cultural sector, to learn more about contemporary art through experience, and to try to familiarize myself with the cultural landscape here in Amsterdam. I was drawn to SAMA over traditional museums, for its more grassroots and community-oriented structure, and seemingly prioritizing integrating technology in novel ways that other museums seem to be slow to pick up. In general, SAMA seemed a bit more on the fringes, more progressive and responsive to social and cultural change than larger and more traditional galleries.

What is your task at SAMA?

My task at SAMA will be to assist in drafting the Collections Management Policy and the Education policy in collaboration with two master’s students.

What interested you the most of the idea / the concept of SAMA?

As I said above, I was interested in SAMA principally because they seem to be more progressive, adaptable, grassroots and community-focused, and firmly grounded in dialogue and inclusive planning with the community in which it operates. This is not a structure or approach I have seen other museums in Amsterdam taking, and so I find the generally future-focused orientation to be a unique and inspiring opportunity for me to learn about museum functions and curating ahead of graduate studies.

Which artwork of the SAMA collection do you like the most?

I really like Kenor’s “Red Actress” for the way it borrows from Suprematism; it’s very striking, very visually aggressive, but I also like the way it blurs the lines between canonical fine art and the less recognized and sanctioned street art, bringing these types of questions of what makes something art out of academia and into a public setting. I also like all of OakOak’s work for the way it creates a feeling of unpredictability and uncertainty, as explained above.

What do you want to learn during your time at SAMA?

Everything I can! Coming from a background in postcolonial studies and in Education, I am especially interested in learning more about working collaboratively with communities, rather than “for” communities. I am particularly interested in learning about ways that bottom-up and democratized organization can be adopted to larger and more traditional galleries.

Which connection do you see between your study and SAMA? How can SAMA benefit from it?

I am not currently in school, but preparing for graduate studies. The obvious connection will be that I will be taking my experience in planning collections and education policy documents – as well as everything else I learn – into my master’s with me, and thus likely helping me get far more out of it.

I have only spent two days at SAMA so far, so I’m still trying to get my bearings with how everything works. I hope to gain as much curatorial experience as possible, of which writing collections management and education policy will be a huge help. I hope to learn effective, realistic, constructive strategies through which to engage the surrounding community and balance academic/museological planning approaches with grassroots-level community collaboration in planning and programming.

So far, I have been most impressed by the community consultations held around the planning of a new Bastardilla piece. In my hometown of Vancouver, the city and the business community have co-opted street art through the annual “Vancouver Mural Festival.” The festival is essentially an investment and re-branding opportunity for the city and business community, which has been implemented without consultation with the low-income communities they are commissioning murals in. In addition to a top-down approach where local input is effectively irrelevant, the city’s rebranding project is rapidly gentrifying and erasing precarious populations from the few remaining pockets of affordable housing and necessities of life in the city. Thus, it is incredibly inspiring to see SAMA investing time, care, and consideration into consulting with the public, and including the surrounding community in ways that are directly relevant, meaningful, and beneficial to them.

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