Becky Nahom, chief curator and director for Halt Gallery, is moving to New York City in June for a two-year graduate program in curatorial practice. She's been a mainstay of the local arts scene for several years -- curating exhibitions with curatorial partner Julia Bruck for shows at Modified Arts, Eye Lounge, and the Halt Gallery shipping container located in the Roosevelt A.R.T.S. Market.
She's also worked with the ASU Art Museum, and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2014, New Times named Halt Gallery the best new gallery, and gave Nahom the Big Brain Award for her innovative work in the arts.
See also: Announcing the 2015 Big Brain Finalists
Although most folks who do the First and Third Friday arts scene think of Halt Gallery as the shipping container where Nahom and Bruck have curated shows since June 2014, Nahom notes that Halt Gallery is actually an idea rather than a place. It's possible, she says that we'll see Halt Gallery shows in New York City down the road.
The final Halt Gallery exhibition in the Roosevelt Row shipping container is "Privacy. Protection. Act." presented by ArtFarm, a local arts collective spearheaded by Patricia Sannit, Christopher Jagmin, and Mimi Jardine. It runs through Friday, May 1.
Soon, Nahom will be taking lessons learned here and applying them to new projects in New York City. She spent a few days there during a recent weekend, but has yet to secure housing. You have to look about two weeks out, she says of the market there. She's hoping for something close to Brooklyn Museum, one of her favorite art haunts in the big city.
Nahom first traveled to New York City when she was just 16 years old, convincing her parents to send her for a summer program at Parsons The New School for Design. She'd grown up with New York City on the brain, dancing for many years and dreaming of a career on Broadway. She ended up attending the School for Visual Arts in New York City instead, but recalls that she didn't have a clear plan of what she "wanted to do or be."
Nahom decided to transfer to Arizona State University -- where she ultimately earned her undergraduate degree in painting. "At ASU I figured out I wanted to be a curator," she says. She's been back to New York City several times since -- including the summer of 2012, when she interned with Site 95, a Brooklyn non-profit that exhibits works by emerging and established artists in various urban settings.
She was back last weekend as well, where time spent doing the Chelsea gallery scene with Bruck reinforced her preference for spaces that feel "less intimidating" and working with emerging or mid-career artists.
For emerging artists, Nahom offers the following advice: "Go to shows. Meet people at shows and galleries. Be part of conversations. People won't always come to you."
Nahom first got the curating bug while taking a gallery exhibitions class at ASU, where student assignments included curating a display case exhibit. That's where she met Bruck. "We really bonded," recalls Nahom.
Together they curated an exhibition of sketchbooks called "That's Sketchy." To this day, they frequent ASU student exhibitions to find artists they're interested in working with. Nahom describes Grant Street Studios, the ASU graduate student art studios and exhibition space located in a repurposed warehouse, as "an amazing resource."
She thinks the Phoenix art scene is amazing, too. "In no other city would I be able to do what I am doing now." For Nahom, Phoenix is a place that "allows anybody to try out their ideas and work hard and put their ideas out there." There's plenty of open space, she says, for people "to put work out there."
Nahom says she'd like to see more work by local artists get shown outside the metro Phoenix area, and recognizes she might one day be in a position to help make it happen. Nahom says every artist she's shown stays on her radar.
Nahom says she's already got a great circle of friends in New York City. She actually learned about the two-year curatorial practice M.A. program at the School for Visual Arts from a close friend who saw a postcard about the program at a bookstore in the Dumbo neighborhood in Brooklyn, where shipping container exhibitions and site-specific art installations are relatively commonplace. She'd heard inklings in 2012 about the program being developed, but really got interested after her friend attended an information session.
Nahom notes that the program has only been in existence for a year. "It's still very flexible because it's brand new," she explains. Most of the classes are held in the evenings, she says, and the program's director set up a kitchen where he encourages students to cook, eat, and converse together. Every curatorial practice student has to take an art class, but Nahom has yet to decide which one strikes her fancy.
She started the application process in November of last year -- submitting the required written statement, resume, and exhibition proposal. Nahom credits an introduction to museums class at ASU with helping her gain the skills to develop such things.
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For the proposal, Nahom wrote an exhibition statement, found artists and images of specific artworks, and created a checklist. It became the "Kid Stuff" exhibition that ran from February 20 to March 14 in the Halt Gallery shipping container earlier this year -- but with 10 Arizona artists rather than the artists included in the proposal.
When we asked Nahom whether she plans to move back to Phoenix after finishing her graduate degree in New York City, she told us she used to return from New York travels feeling like she was coming home to Phoenix. "Now being in New York feels like going home," she says.
"I feel like I've done what I wanted to do in Phoenix," she explains. "I'm not sad about something I never got to get done. I accomplished everything I wanted to here." Still, we can't help hoping she'll feel differently after a couple of years away. After all, she could be the next Lisa Sette -- working from metro Phoenix to position Arizona's best artists on the national and international stage.