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Caitlín Doherty: ‘A sense of momentum and a desire to grow’

March 13, 2017 // by Denise M. Reagan

Caitlín Doherty grew up surrounded by the arts. After moving to Edinburgh, Scotland, at age 11, she said it's “second to none in terms of its museums.” Her husband, Brendan, who is a singer/songwriter, keeps the house full of music.

Caitlín Doherty c
Image courtesy of Eat Pomegranate Photography.

She served as chief curator and deputy director of curatorial affairs at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, exhibitions and speaker curator at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, director of Lismore Castle Arts, and several other art and academic positions. Born on South Uist, a small island in the Outer Hebrides in Northwest Scotland, Doherty holds master's degrees in art history from the University of Edinburgh and in museum and gallery studies from the University of St. Andrews, both in Scotland.

With about a week to go before she starts her new job, Doherty answered a few questions about her plans for MOCA Jacksonville.

How did you first become interested in art?

I grew up in a family that was very interested in all the arts--from music, to literature, to the visual arts--and was always being brought to museums and galleries for day trips as a child. Then I studied art history at Edinburgh University, and I knew that I wanted to work in the arts in one way or another.

The Artist as Activist Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman installation view crib
The Artist as Activist: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2016, photo courtesy of Eat Pomegranate Photography.
The Artist as Activist Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman installation view gallery
The Artist as Activist: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2016, photo courtesy of Eat Pomegranate Photography.

What are some of your favorite projects you've developed?

I have lots of favorites - for a whole variety of different reasons. At Lismore Castle Arts one of my favorite projects was the Titled/Untitled exhibition, a collaborative project that presented works from the Devonshire and Rubell family collections and challenged our preconceived notions of traditional and contemporary art.

At VCUQatar I was delighted to have introduced a formal BFA and MFA exhibition format, as well as overhauled the notion of what a Faculty exhibition might be. I was privileged to curate exhibitions such as Confluence: Photographic based work from the contemporary Middle EastThe Depths of Hope by Fathi Hassan, and a collection of new works by Irish sculptor John O'Connor. I also curated the Crossing Boundaries Lecture Series and presented speakers including Richard Serra, Marina Abramović and
 Sherin Nashat.

At the Broad MSU, some of my favorite exhibitions to curate have been The Artist as Activist: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur RahmanDrowning World and The Red Cedar River Project by Gideon Mendel; 2116: Forecast of the Next Century; and Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965-2015, which is currently on tour in its third venue across China.

How did you first hear about MOCA Jacksonville?

I first heard about MOCA Jacksonville because of some of the exhibitions that it has presented in the past. 

Gideon Mendel Drowning World installation view visitor
Gideon Mendel: Drowning World, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2016, photo courtesy of Eat Pomegranate Photography.

What do you think about MOCA's mission?

“The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville promotes the discovery, knowledge, and advancement of the art, artists, and ideas of our time.”

I am immediately drawn to MOCA's mission: it is artist focused, energized, and about feeding and nourishing our natural curiosity. Art from any time or place allows us insight into the context from which it has come--and contemporary art, therefore, tells us something of the society that we are all part of, allowing us to understand the world around us in perhaps a different or more holistic way than we did before.

What do you see as MOCA's strengths?

MOCA occupies a beautiful building in a wonderful downtown location, and yet with a strong affiliation to the University of North Florida. In this way, it has the opportunity to be enriched by and contribute to all of the research and scholarship currently underway at UNF, across all of its various departments, but at the same time, connect directly with the local and regional audience of Jacksonville. It can therefore operate as something of a gateway or bridge, directly connecting the campus with the wider community.

And, of course, the exhibitions and education programs have been growing in strength over the past number of years, together with the Permanent Collection. There are so many great projects underway, and I am excited to develop these even further in the future.

But perhaps MOCA's greatest strength is the genuine commitment to develop and be successful that I have felt from all involved with the Museum, from it's amazing staff, to the Trustees, to visitors, to staff and students at UNF. Everyone is excited about what the future holds, and for a new director coming into post, that sense of momentum is a wonderful asset! 

Moving Time Video Art at 50 1965–2015 installation view interaction
Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965–2015, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2015, photo courtesy of Eat Pomegranate Photography.

What areas do you see for improvement?

There are always areas for improvement in any organization, but I view challenges as possibilities, and I think that we will be able to work together as a team to come up with some really creative developments moving forward.

What most excites you about joining MOCA?

I am struck by the feeling that MOCA is at an important point in its development; in fact, that's something that I feel about Jacksonville in general. At MOCA, there is definitely a sense of momentum and a desire to grow. The organization doesn't feel cemented into place yet; it feels malleable and somewhere that I can make a real contribution and have genuine impact. For me that is hugely exciting!

What will you focus on your first year at MOCA?

It will be very important to really understand the Museum fully. Although maybe not the most glamorous aspect of the job, getting to grips with the administrative and financial details of the institution will be absolutely crucial in order to provide a strong framework within which creative magic can happen. Of course continuing to develop the relationship with UNF will also be hugely important and something I am very much looking forward to, as well as continuing to develop relationships with friends, supporters, and potential partners for the Museum at local, national, and international levels. 

2116 Forecast of the Next Century installation view gallery 1
2116: Forecast of the Next Century, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2016, photo courtesy of the Broad MSU.
2116 Forecast of the Next Century installation view gallery 2
2116: Forecast of the Next Century, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2016, photo courtesy of the Broad MSU.

Where would you like to see MOCA five years from now?

I would love to see MOCA with a clear sense of itself on the local, national, and international arenas. As it continues to grow its exhibitions and education programs, it will continue to be a vital heartbeat in the cultural life of Jacksonville and beyond, and in five years time, I hope that it will be an instigator of conversation around the art and artists of our time, both at home and abroad.

What are your impressions of Jacksonville?

My family and I loved Jacksonville, especially the proximity to the Atlantic. We've already discovered some wonderful neighborhoods and great places to visit and we are so looking forward to exploring more in the coming months. But what has particularly attracted us is the heart that the city and community seems to have--a real sense of pride in place and a welcome that has been just wonderful!

What do you enjoy doing when you're not working in a museum?

I love spending time with the family, be it lazy Sunday mornings with waffles and syrup, or getting out and about in nature. My husband is a musician, too, and so we are always surrounded by music. I love nothing more than family and friends filling my home with music and laughter!

Moving Time Video Art at 50 1965–2015 installation view gallery
Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965–2015, installation view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2015, photo courtesy of Eat Pomegranate Photography.

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