How a Curator Addresses Complex Issues

John Spiak © 2011 Eliza Gregory (The Orange County Register)

John Spiak © 2011 Eliza Gregory (The Orange County Register)

On Wednesday, November 14th, staff members of 4Culture attended a lecture given by the University of Washington’s Museology program called “Art and Social Change”.  Before the talk by John Spiak, director and chief curator at the Grand Central Art Center at Cal State- Fullerton, students from the University of Washington displayed posters highlighting how museums incorporate various social issues (such as obesity, gender roles, incarceration laws, and abuse) into their programs.  The audience was exposed to the connection between art and social change and Spiak’s lecture exemplified how this relationship can be achieved creatively through using the museum as a platform.

Spiak’s own experiences working previously with the Arizona State University Art Museum and in California are numerous.  His multimedia projects include working with communities ranging from prisoners to the elderly, and from farmers to children.  His goal of examining everyday life and relationships requires reaching into all aspects of a surrounding community.  He will often start an exhibit with questions: What is it like to live in a country where so many are incarcerated?  What does suburban sprawl look like to farmers?

Through this approach, the museum becomes an interactive space that inspires further questions.  Spiak admitted that it takes a great deal of time and planning in order to bring such ambitious and diverse shows into actuality, but he reassured students that it’s all well worth the effort when doing what you love.  His clear passion for merging art and social change allows the exploration of controversial topics to move beyond museum walls.  Some of his latest ideas seek to involve alternative venues such as restaurants, and it seems that no matter where he works, Spiak enables artists and communities to support local businesses and encourage dialogue, and promote awareness of issues in society.