Alumni Profile: Toby Lawrence

PhD graduate Toby Lawrence (centre) with supervisors Ashok Mathur and Tania Willard after convocation, June 2022. 

In 2021, Toby Lawrence completed a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at UBCO in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, working with supervisors Tania Willard & Dr. Ashok Mathur (OCAD U). Her doctoral research critically examines contemporary initiatives reshaping curation that move beyond dominant western parameters of curation to offer something else. This research is supported by a deep dive into feminist and decolonial methodologies, which she employs throughout her own curatorial practice, including her current jobs. Lawrence also holds an MA in Art History from the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at UBC in Vancouver.

She shared some insights on her time here at UBCO and what she is doing now.

What is your current profession? 

I have been working as a curator for the past 15 years. Since 2020, I have been working as a curator at Open Space, an artist-run centre in Victoria. This October, I will be returning to Vancouver to take on the role of Curator of Outdoor Art with UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. I am also co-developing an educational platform called Moss Project: Curatorial Research + Learning Program, as an alternative space for discourse and pedagogy within curation that supports historically underrepresented and racialized curators alongside allied practitioners through peer-to-peer learning, inquiry and mentorship.

What inspires you about your work? 

The potential of art as a catalyst towards learning, engagement, conversations and understanding, and the opportunity to bring people together through incredible and endless examples of creativity and innovation.

What made you decide, or influenced you to come to UBCO for your graduate degree?

I was looking for professors that could offer mentorship in specific modes of arts organization and creative practice. I was introduced to Dr. Ashok Mathur, who was the Creative Studies chair at the time, through work colleagues and I reached out to see if he was accepting students.

How do you think your degree set you up for your current position?

Timing played a large role in the success of my degree. The practices of my supervisors, committee members and cohort offered opportunities to experience and participate in projects that were foundational to my research and growth as a curator in significant and meaningful ways. These experiences, including participation in BUSH Gallery activities, sharing studio space with Samuel Roy-Bois and co-organizing the Indigenous Art Intensive alongside current and past FCCS faculty Ashok Mathur, Stephen Foster and Tania Willard, continue to influence the ways in which I work in my current position.

Tell us about people who have influenced you or helped you in your academic journey and current career.

I don’t have an official mentor; however, there are a handful of folks, including my UBC co-supervisors Ashok Mathur and Tania Willard and previous managers Julie Bevan (now Museum London) and Michelle Jacques (now Remai Modern and Moss Project collaborator), who continue to offer support and advice towards my professional trajectory. Each also demonstrate leadership qualities in their own practices that I value.