The Conversation: Ylva Rouse

Senior Curator

Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA)

Photograph by laird

Welcome to Jacksonville! What were your initial impressions upon moving here a year ago and joining MOCA Jacksonville?

Thank you! I was excited to join the team at MOCA, and particularly drawn by the vision of Director Caitlín Doherty, for the museum as a place where the art, artists and ideas of today can be seen, discussed, and lived. For me, a contemporary art museum is, above all, a place for the celebration of the creativity of our time. As such, we play a vital role in giving a voice to living artists, providing a forum that allows for exploration and enquiry – a much-needed place in these times! I was also attracted by MOCA’s location downtown, which I believe is at a pivotal moment, with new leadership and momentum to finally push through the revitalization that will allow it to become the center that this sprawling community needs. 

You came to MOCA from a curatorial post in New Orleans at the triennial Prospect. Part of your outreach there was collaborating with universities, such as Tulane and Xavier. Are you planning any upcoming collaborations with University of North Florida (UNF) students and faculty? 

As a cultural institute of the university, MOCA’s relationship with UNF is intrinsic to our mission. I enjoyed building on that this past year, whether through the exhibitions in our UNF gallery, the Artist-in-Residency project we offer UNF seniors, or the classes from the Department of Art, Art History, and Design that utilize our collection and programs for learning. But the collaborations go beyond that in working cross departmentally by finding ways to engage the full student body with transformative learning opportunities. I’m looking forward to engaging biology department students, for example, for an upcoming exhibition by an artist working on an art project about invasive species. But more immediately, in this COVID-19 environment, we have offered to host a Senior Exhibition on our MOCA Online platform for students graduating this year, and I’m excited about offering them this opportunity. 

Bringing art out into the community was a big part of your work in New Orleans through Prospect. Will you plan any exhibitions outside of MOCA?

Collaborating with local organizations to bring art out into the different communities of Jacksonville is always rewarding, as it nourishes the museum as much as the community. Our Museum without Walls program allows us to place works from our collection in other buildings and sites, such as LaVilla or our annual exhibition in the Times-Union Center, and we are looking for ways to expand. I have recently joined the City’s Art in Public Places Program Committee, and am excited about our projects there as well, most immediately the artistic redevelopment of the County Courthouse Plaza downtown, for which public charrettes were held this winter by the Cultural Council. Artists are an incredibly undervalued resource – in my ideal world, they would form part of all city planning commissions! Art is not only about placing paintings on the wall, it’s about our environment and our health, and artists have a lot to contribute in our aim to create a livable city. It was wonderful to curate the “Breaking Boundaries: the Vision of Jacqueline Holmes” exhibition as it was such an opportunity to learn about the history of the contemporary arts here and begin to get to meet some of the city’s artists. 

Do you look at the demographics of a city to make curatorial choices that will help engage the community?

Absolutely! We also have a lot of work to do as a community in terms of racial and cultural diversity and acknowledging our common history. As our recent exhibition by Khalid Albaih brought up, Jacksonville is the most diverse city in the state of Florida, partly due to the fact that we are a designated Port of Entry in the United States. 

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