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Curator Spotlight: Esker Foundation’s Naomi Potter

By SILVIA PIKAL

In 2012, Naomi Potter wore a hard hat and steel-toe boots to her interview with Jim Hill for the position of director and curator at Esker Foundation.

That’s because the building was still under construction.

“I spent a good part of the morning with Jim just wandering through the space and imagining what it could be,” Potter says. “I felt so much excitement of what could happen here.”

What is the Esker Foundation? 

The Esker Foundation is unique in Canada as it’s funded by philanthropists and art patrons Jim and Susan Hill. Since opening in 2012, the gallery has developed a reputation for showcasing innovative and challenging contemporary art.

Potter has been a key part of positioning Esker as a cultural force in Calgary and Canada over the past five years: “I’m proud of being part of the founding staff of Esker Foundation. I think about how I’m shaping the future of this place. It’s a heavy responsibility but it’s also quite exciting. The reputation we’re building is important to longevity—that motivates me.”

The path to a curator 

Potter grew up on Salt Spring Island with parents who loved travelling and took her on trips to Europe, where she spent a lot of time touring museums.

After completing a Master of Visual Arts at Concordia University, she lived in various cities in Europe and Canada. Through participating and working in the visual arts community, she made connections with artists all over the world.

“I became really good at organizing fellow artists. By default I think I became a curator because of my good organizational skills.”

She says her job at Esker Foundation looks different everyday. She could be finding artists through research, studio visits, or viewing other exhibitions. She also oversees the installation of art, and develops Esker’s public programming.

Seeing artwork for the first time 

“One of the things I love most about what I do is our installation period. We close for three weeks and special trucks with huge crates arrive. It’s kind of like Christmas when we get to open the crates and see the artwork.”

Potter says they feature experimental art that pushes boundaries, while staying relevant to Calgarians.

“It’s important for us to feed the local art community and conversations around culture, politics and inclusion. We want the public to walk away feeling they are connected to the work.”

Their public programming gives different access points to their exhibits, which include tours, artist talks, workshops, kid’s classes and a “bring the baby” art tour.

“We start them really young,” she laughs.

If you haven’t been to Esker Foundation before, Potter encourages you to drop by.

“Give it a chance. We’re quite friendly here.”

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