An interview with Jessica Baran, Associate Director of Curatorial & Program Development
Jessica Baran has for more than a decade helped to transform Saint Louis’ creative landscape—serving as art writer for the Riverfront Times, Assistant Director of White Flag Projects, and Director of fort gondo compound for the arts. With a BA in visual art and an MFA in poetry, she combines an aptitude for language with a visual expertise, as evident from her three poetry collections and regular contributions to publications such as Artforum, BOMB Magazine and Flash Art. She’s also an adjunct lecturer in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art at Washington University and an instructor for St. Louis University’s Prison Arts & Education program. Baran joined the growing Barrett Barrera team in late 2017.
Coming to Barrett Barrera with an extensive background in curating, art writing, making, and reviewing, which parts most inform your day-to-day process?
Something I love about my job with BBP is that I’m fortunately able to draw from many aspects of my past professional experiences—from organizational management to exhibition and program realization. Writing is always useful, no matter what I’m doing—and certainly, having taught artists and looked at art most of my adult life helps inform all of our fantastically diverse projects.
How has the St. Louis art world changed since you moved back after completing your MFA?
I first visited fort gondo while in graduate school and voluntarily made their first website; I also wrote my first art reviews about their shows. As far as I’m aware, it really was the only alternative art space operating at that time. But since then (i.e. 2004-2006) dozens of art spaces have emerged, from nonprofits to alt spaces and residency programs. Which is to say, the seeds for what’s going on now were certainly being planted then, but now they’re flourishing—as projects+gallery and Barrett Barrera Projects exemplify.
What excites you about the future of Barrett Barrera?
We have a number of new traveling exhibitions in the works and are actively placing our existing exhibitions in new institutions—so, working on those projects is enormously exciting, as is participating in program development for the forthcoming shows at projects+gallery.
With Seeing Other People at projects+gallery, you curated many local artists in dialogue with nationally known figures like Cindy Sherman and Mickalene Thomas. Talk about your curatorial philosophy?
We’re fortunate to have access to a deep inventory of truly exceptional contemporary art. Finding ways to contextualize that work in new ways, so it invites sales as well as fresh eyes, is a great and, I think, important challenge–let alone one very unique to our organization. I’m fortunate to be working with the kind of resources, collection-wise, that Barrett Barrera has—as well as a staff that’s ever-supportive of forward-thinking experimentation and conversation with our local arts community and beyond.