Rebecca Duclos (1993) has pursued a life working with artists and creative practitioners in museums and universities on three continents, at multiple universities and in positions at institutions big and small. Currently Dean of Fine Arts at Concordia University, her advice to new graduates reflects her experience. “Say yes to everything,” she tells them.
Rather than worry too much about the impermanence of short-term contracts, Duclos encourages students to see myriad opportunities, to crack open their expectations and to form professional friendships. “That’s how so many of us got to experience really wonderful institutions and meet incredible people,” she says.
As part of her Museum Studies degree, Duclos completed her internship at the Experimental Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. She then took off to Melbourne, Australia for a teaching fellowship. Upon returning to Canada, she spent the next decade working at a number of programming and curatorial roles, at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, the Design Exchange, and the Textile Museum of Canada, both in Toronto.
In her late thirties, Duclos returned to academia to pursue a doctorate in art history and visual studies at the University of Manchester, where along with her husband and collaborator, artist David K. Ross, she helped author an Arts Council England grant to carry out “Alchemy,” a multi-million dollar project focused on contemporary artists and historical collections at the Manchester Museum. “It was an interesting period of my life where I was able to do my own research and curatorial work while writing my PhD,” she says.
When Duclos and her husband returned to Canada, they chose to settle in Montreal, where she began independently curating, teaching at McGill and Concordia universities, and directing a low-residency Master of Fine Arts program at the Maine College of Art in the U.S. Then she got a call from a search firm asking if she would be interested in applying for a position as graduate dean at the Art Institute of Chicago. Why not, Duclos thought. She was hired and moved to Chicago.
When another call came from colleagues in Montreal to return to Canada for a new deanship, this time in the faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia, Duclos was game once again. “I thought, this might be my only shot at getting back to Montreal. And Concordia was a university very dear to my heart, with a radical past,” says Duclos.
Now in her fifth and final year of the position, she looks forward to resuming teaching art history after her term ends. “Although there’s not a museology program at Concordia, there’s a very active community of people who look at material culture and contemporary artist interventions and installations within a museum context. I can’t wait to get back to curating and writing,” she says.
Duclos recalls her time as a student in the Museum Studies program as one where she first got to grapple with big issues. “The 1990s was the deep era of post-modernism and post-colonial studies. We were steeped in so much theoretical literature and activist practice. At the same time, 1994 saw the launch of the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples. That was another hugely important moment for me, being part of Canada’s first pass through some very complicated issues around the keeping of Indigenous objects. There was a real hard look at ourselves happening at that time. Being schooled in the nineties really helped me to have a much more critical edge in thinking about how culture is interpreted,” says Duclos.
It also motivated her interest in curatorial process rather than in particular historical periods. “I’m less interested in defending the art or objects I’m curating per se than I am in exposing the narratives and the stories that might be told about it,” explains Duclos. “Most of the curatorial work I’ve done is not straight-up curating, It’s usually a critique of the curatorial method itself. I’m more interested in how museology can be used to formulate new perspectives, not entrench old ones.”