Jennifer Navva Milliken, the Bellevue Arts Museum’s new curator of craft, is an art historian, world traveler and jewelry enthusiast. She has worked at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and founded an independent curatorial practice in 2012.
Her background in contemporary art, craft and design comes with an international flavor. A native of Stanwood and a graduate of Western Washington University, she has also called Seoul, South Korea, New York, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem home. She sat down for a conversation recently (edited for length):
Q: You’ve worked all over the world. How will you bring an international outlook and consciousness to BAM while maintaining a local perspective?
A: That’s kind of the funny thing about me, that I have, in my DNA, a very Northwest perspective on things, but having lived in places like Seoul, Korea, and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in Israel, has really opened my world view. I don’t really see myself as belonging necessarily to one region or one country.
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That’s really my approach to art and art making as well. We’re looking at an image or a piece of art that someone’s done and we don’t know necessarily anything about their background. We’re engaging with it on our terms rather than thinking too deeply about the culture and the geographic boundaries from which this piece of work emerged.
But one thing that I really appreciate about the museum is that there’s this balance between supporting local artists as well as an international outlook. I think when you have an interdisciplinary mission which is so aligned with how I approach art and art making, you have a responsibility on one side to advocate for the local scene, on the other side to bring contemporary discussions about the field to those local makers.
Q: What does a curator of craft do, as opposed to a curator of fine art?
A: My responsibility as curator of craft is to continue the discussion the museum started that focuses on the process of transforming materials and building techniques that goes into production of creatively motivated objects.
My approach to craft is that you can apply craft as a variable, an activity, as a verb, to your manipulation of material to satisfy creative urge and vision. In contemporary discourse we’re not focusing too deeply on traditional media, though that is very much a part of what we continue to do here and see here at BAM.
I think a curator of craft now is responsible not only for those traditional media but also for very current approaches to making, like rapid prototyping, code, open source, which is changing our approach to making and creation and bringing it into the home.
Q: What role does the Bellevue Arts Museum play in the Seattle metropolitan area and in the Bellevue community?
A: BAM is unique because it’s the only museum in the immediate Pacific Northwest with a really interdisciplinary approach. It presents works across all media that show creative engagement, including both design and craft.
With the Design Festival in September and more venues for designers and makers to present their works directly to the public, there’s more of a focus on design. People are more interested in thinking about objects they interact with on a daily basis and the form of those objects. BAM has been very prescient in including that in its mission early on and presenting those kinds of exhibitions to its audiences.
Katharine Schwab: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kschwabable.