Day in the Life: Caroline Riedel

- Kayla Pepper

Have you ever admired the art on display in public places across campus? If so, you have Caroline Riedel to thank. Riedel is curator of the University of Victoria Art Collections, which means she wears many smocks. She trains and supervises students in workstudy or co-op positions, works with faculty to incorporate the collections into their teaching and research and with donors who want to give their art to UVic and—most visibly to us—programs display and exhibition spaces on and off campus.

Riedel splits her workweek between the UVic campus and UVic’s Legacy Art Gallery downtown.

“I don’t think people realize the amount of work that goes into putting together an exhibit,” says Riedel. She and her staff interview donors, artists and community members, research and write catalogue text, design posters, write media releases and e-news communication, conceptualize exhibition designs, and develop programs and events.

Most exhibitions draw on the university’s permanent art collection of 27,000 objects. There’s a curatorial committee that makes acquisition decisions. “We don’t just go out and accept donations of art without context; an acquisition must adhere to our collection priorities and fit with the research and teaching interests of the university.”

In choosing art for a particular space, Riedel considers more than its aesthetic impact. “What we display in the space communicates a message about UVic and its values,” she explains. Her most recent project was UVic’s Welcome Centre. In recognition that UVic is situated on traditional Coast and Straits Salish territory, the Welcome Centre hosts works by Coast Salish artists (Charles Elliott, Joe Wilson and Manny Salazar), former visual arts faculty (John Dobereiner), and West Coast modernist pieces by Don Jarvis .
“It’s a way for a newcomer to UVic to be introduced to some cultural highlights from this region and from UVic’s art collection,” she explains.

Once the art is selected, Riedel supervises installation in consultation with Facilities Management. The Facilities Management project officer and occupants of the space determine the target audience of the works, the values they want to display, security details and environmental conditions such as light, temperature and humidity. They also consider how the artworks blend with the surrounding decor.

“I really appreciate Facilities Management’s openness to include art in new buildings. It’s part of the planning to have art in public spaces, and that’s a valued component,” she says.

She takes pride in showing “how a building can be revitalized and given a new meaning—not only by exterior changes but by how the art enhances it.” A prominent example is the recently completed renovations of the Cornett Building, which features a wide variety of contemporary Coast Salish art from the collection of George and Christiane Smyth.

Riedel was born and raised in Victoria. Her academic career started out in Germanic studies at UVic. Then after a co-op term with the National Archives in Ottawa, she switched her major and completed her master’s degree in history in art.  She shares her passion for art with her two children, ages four and six. One of their favourite activities is visiting the museums.

“It’s a very kid-focused life I lead outside of work,” she smiles, adding that to unwind she also likes to swim and bike.

For Riedel, “There isn’t a typical day, but that's what I like about my job.” Twice she’s traveled internationally for her job: to Veracruz, Mexico, to collaborate on a Fine Arts exchange program, and to France, where items from UVic were installed for the duration of a music festival. While Riedel is keenly interested in all things artistic—she even reads art history books during leisure time—she does not identify as an artist. “I’m a crafty person,” she laughs. “But I’m not an artist.”

In addition to the works at the Legacy Art Gallery, pieces from UVic’s critically acclaimed collection of 27,000 pieces can be seen in the many publically accessible buildings on campus, through its art-for-loan program, and in off-campus locations such as the Royal Jubilee Hospital, Swans Hotel, Government House and Cool Aid Community Health Centre (Access Health).


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Keywords: day in the life, staff

People: Caroline Riedel

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