How to Curate: Lessons on Curating Art with Cheeseburn’s Matthew Jarratt

Matthew Jarratt is Big News in the art world. Having worked in the arts and culture sector for the best part of 25 years, Matthew knows a thing or two about art. From curating at Cheeseburn to managing the North East Cultural Partnership, by way of Arts Council England, Matthew has dedicated his professional life to facilitating great art. So, who better to talk about curating art, than Matthew?

“At Cheeseburn, my role is to seek out artists and sculptors whose work will complement the landscape – at the right point in their career,” Matthew tells me, continuing, “To site at Cheeseburn, the artist or sculptor is usually either really established and looking to exhibit more recent work, or new to the game and in need of visibility.”

  Image Credit:  Colin Davison

Image Credit: Colin Davison

For Matthew, this involves a three-pronged approach, namely: nurturing young artists; realising bigger projects, and encouraging new, experimental works. Thanks, in part, to his lengthy tenure at the Arts Council, Matthew is very well-connected in the art world – something that has proven incredibly beneficial in his curatorial work for Cheeseburn. Says Matthew: “Because I have commissioned a lot of work, both in Newcastle City Centre and around-the-world, I know a lot of artists and sculptors.” And, arguably, it’s this personable approach that has afforded Matthew the successful career he has enjoyed to-date.

Whether it’s bumping into him in a suit at The Journal Culture Awards or taking a map off him in a cap at Cheeseburn, it’s always a pleasure to talk to Matthew. Warm and approachable, Matthew manages to get down to business – but in a nice way. Clare Townley, winner of this year’s Gillian Dickinson North East Young Sculptor (GDNEYS) award, in collaboration with Cheeseburn, agrees. “Matthew, and the team at Cheeseburn, was very communicative throughout my application for GDNEYS,” Clare tells me. “It was very much a supportive journey, where you describe what you’d like to do and, because he’s curated lots of exhibitions, he’s extremely good at overseeing said journey.”

  Image Credit:  Colin Davison

Image Credit: Colin Davison

‘Overseeing’ is an excellent word to describe Matthew’s work as a curator. Especially when working on GDNEYS, with young artists such as Clare, Peter Hanmer and Dan Gough – whose winning proposals and installations can be viewed within the gardens of Cheeseburn. “Every year, I work with around ten young artists, often on their very first public project,” Matthew tells me. “My role within GDNEYS is both as a curator, but also as a mentor. I need, of course, to curate an exciting exhibition, but also, to steer these young people; to push their boundaries; to give them a confidence boost.”

Working with up-and-coming artists, though challenging, is one of the most rewarding aspects of life as a curator. “The Young Sculptor project is challenging in a really good way, in that it’s rewarding,” Matthew agrees. So, what exactly does it take to nurture young artists? “It’s about creating structure,” Matthew reveals, adding. “Ultimately, you need to ensure that they hit the budget, hit the deadline and do their best work.”

It’s clear to me that curating is something Matthew is passionate about; something he truly loves. From siting international works, such as that of Chinese artist, Qi Yafeng, to chatting excitedly about installations such as No 2: No Trace, by Martin Eccles, Matthew’s passion is something that shines through. “It’s really great to be able to help artists, both at the start of their careers, and further along in their journey,” Matthew says.

From a curatorial sense, at Cheeseburn and beyond, Matthew has come to realise that art-lovers generally want three things: to see great, dynamic sculpture; to be surprised by unusual or temporary installations, and to see young talent supported. By balancing those three things? You’re well on your way curating great art… You can thank us later.