This month some of the world’s leading artists exhibited at the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair, the biggest event of its kind in Australia.

For the second year in a row, UNSW Art & Design partnered with Sydney Contemporary, and current students of the Masters of Curating and Cultural Leadership degree went behind the scenes to learn about the art and curatorial practice and networked with the industry.

The students conducted free tours of the art fair for the general public. Taking place from 12 to 15 September at Sydney’s Carriageworks – but with exhibitions across Australia, the fair featured more than 90 galleries, 450 artists, 150 events, ground-breaking installations, live performances, music, engaging panel discussions and kids’ activities.

In 2018 sales at the Fair reached $21 million, achieved in just four days, making it Australia’s biggest selling art week.

Sessional Lecturer of Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership, Jasmin Stephens, facilitated the training of the students to conduct the tours. She says it’s quite challenging for the students, because it involves “being in the public realm; being UNSW Art & Design ambassadors and having to learn about a very wide range of artworks and artists.”

Ms Stephens says it provides invaluable experience for the students, as they get to develop their own curatorial skills and learn about the art market as well, and the experience “can go straight onto their resume.”

There is a large contingent of Chinese and other international visitors to the events and some UNSW students conducted the tours in Mandarin and Cantonese for their benefit.

“Most people associate tours with groups, but I know from being involved in 2018, the tours can be tailored for people with special needs. There was a lady with cerebral palsy who was in a wheelchair and her speech was impaired, but she had a great love of art and we arranged a one-on-one tour for her last year,” says Ms Stephens.

Ms Stephens says artists who have their work exhibited range from those still in the early stages of their career to very prominent artists, working in every type of media.

She says some of the many ways that Sydney Contemporary benefits the exhibited artists are that it represents financial support that every artist needs.

“Also, there's an enormous amount of promotion, the presence and the reach of the fair is massive, and it promotes the role of arts and culture, in general business and in the quality of the artists,” she says.

And although the majority of visitors are not experienced art connoisseurs, Ms Stephens says there are some who visit the fair who are quite knowledgeable and have been associated with art for a long time.

She says the reason they give for attending the tours conducted by the UNSW Art & Design students is “they feel that they would learn about the younger and newly emerging artists”.

“I think, as someone who is an independent curator, what they said is that there are many ways to be an artist,” Ms Stephens says. “And there’s that benefit of talking to people about the way they see the world. People have a whole multitude of ways of seeing the world.”

She says further benefits to studying the UNSW Masters of Curating and Cultural Leadership degree is that it creates the opportunity to forge a network of colleagues that will be with you for the rest of your career.

“Like a brains trust across the Asia Pacific region. And in 10 years, you may only email them once or twice, you might only be sending good wishes or congratulating them on an achievement, because you see they are doing something, and you wish to give them encouragement. But they will still be there for you.”

Find out more about the UNSW Art & Design Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership