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Northern Arts Review: Advice for artists from Curator Manar Abo Touk

Curators go through many portfolios every year, and ensuring yours is easy to browse will increase your chances immensely
Manar Abo Touk, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections.

Haley-BassettThis week, I spoke with Manar Abo Touk, the Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie. Manar is a Syrian-Canadian curator who specializes in international contemporary art with a focus on Canadian and Middle Eastern art. She has an MA in Museum and Gallery Studies from Kingston University London, UK, and a BA in History and Theory of Arts and Arts Administration from the University of Ottawa.

Manar’s curriculum vitae includes the Canadian War Museum and Studio Sixty-Six Gallery in Ottawa, and the aluCine Latin Film+Media Arts Festival in Toronto. She was also the Arts Manager and Curator at Al Riwaq Art Space in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Recently, she served as a juror for the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council’s 39th Regional Juried Art Exhibition alongside Cree-Métis artist and educator Michelle Sound.

Manar generously offered some advice for artists hoping to submit their work to curators such as herself. Next week, we will discuss her creative process in bringing an exhibition to life.

In her curatorial practice, Manar tells stories through exhibitions that leave a lasting impact on the viewer. It all starts with a theme or idea followed by months of in-depth research. For Manar, it is important to understand how other curators and artists have approached similar ideas, and what her exhibition can add to the conversation.

Curators are not simply administrators in charge of the logistics of organizing exhibitions, although that is certainly part of the job. Curation is a creative field in itself. Curators have extensive knowledge of art history, contemporary art and current trends, as well as their own developing practice. Artists and curators can work together to advance their careers. Which is why it is important to understand which curators have a similar vision to yours when submitting your portfolio to galleries.

When submitting a proposal to a curator, indicate that you have researched them, and make a case for why they should work with you. The words, “to whom it may concern,” have no place in an introductory email or portfolio submission. She also suggests that artists only submit work that is relevant to their proposal. Do not group together your best work if it does not communicate your message. Your portfolio should be cohesive and illustrate your ideas.

Manar advises that artists carefully read over the submission guidelines of each gallery. Do not assume what works for one gallery will work for another. In fact, improperly formatting your work is a sure way to get your submission overlooked. Curators go through many portfolios every year, and ensuring that yours is easy to browse will increase your chances immensely

A common misstep artists make is what Manar calls “guerilla marketing.” In other words, sharing your portfolio in a scattershot to every possible gallery without considering their mandate or direction. Manar calls this approach “a waste of effort” and strongly encourages that artists research the gallery, the curator and their past work before submitting a proposal. 

On this she says, “What are your goals, and how do they align with the gallery’s?”

As an example, commercial painters will most likely have better luck with private galleries where the curator has a history of exhibiting similar work. While installation artists will fare better with non-profit organizations where sales are not a concern.

As a final word of advice she states, “This is your career. Be purposeful, be strategic. Focus your energy on what will achieve your goals.”

Do you have an artistic endeavour you would like to promote? Is there a topic you would like me to discuss? I would love to hear from you! Please email me at