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Backstage Pass: Emma Thurgood curates excitement

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 30, 2013
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Emma Thurgood bet on her college education. She could study art at her parents’ expense, if she graduated with straight A’s and made the dean’s list. 

“It was a real deal,” she says. They signed a contract.

Ringling College of Art and Design brought her to Sarasota, where she’s now the exhibitions coordinator at Art Center Sarasota. Her art, along with remnants from past and upcoming exhibitions, decorates her office. She picks up a plush navy and pink polka-dotted egg sculpture she made. It’s happy-looking, like Thurgood.

“This season is exciting,” she says. “It’s so different from what we’ve done.”

Four exhibitions launch the season at Art Center Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 7, one of which, “Pulp Culture: Of and About Paper,” she curated.

“Pulp Culture” examines all of the other ways “the unsung hero” is used aside from something you paint on, such as: paper installations, sculptures, origami and bookmaking, for example.

She walks to the back room where boxes of art are waiting. Thurgood works with a 10-person volunteer committee and Director Lisa Berger to decide the season; then, Thurgood does the legwork. According to her pedometer, she walks seven miles a day during a change of exhibitions.

“Nothing I do is exceptionally difficult, but you have to have a love for it to do it well,” she says. Her excitement belies her passion.

Her biggest headache is the packing process. She opens boxes one layer at a time, and takes a photo of each layer so she can send it back exactly the way the artist shipped it. She pulls out a paper antelope sculpture by Tasha Lewis. Letting out a giddy yelp of excitement, she makes it leap through the air. It’s her favorite in the exhibit.

“They’re so cute!” she says.

She displays equal excitement about March’s Confluence Project, featuring the work of Sarasota’s sister cities.

With help from the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, Tel Mond, Israel, will be the first sister city exhibited this March. The exhibit will challenge misconceptions of Israel. Vladimir, Russia, is 2015’s sister city.

Thurgood continues her display of happiness as she discusses last season’s Jackie Peters Cully’s community leaf project and installation. It was such a success that ACS staff decided to do one every year. This year’s community project will be architectural paper structures that link together from Netherlands-based artist Noa Haim — Thurgood has a couple on her desk.

For the first time, Thurgood’s passion turns from giddy to serious. When she was in art school, people told her not to get involved at ACS because it doesn’t help local artists. Those people were wrong, she said.

Last year, ACS paid local artists more than $25,000 for work sold at the center. Thurgood’s challenge is serving both artists and art viewers. Exciting exhibitions of nonlocal artists in one gallery brings people in to see the community-featured work in the others. Two of the four upcoming exhibits feature locals.

Thurgood’s goal is perpetual improvement. And, we’ve learned, so far, that her determination wins bets; whether it’s, as she says, “stepping up the game” at Art Center Sarasota or graduating with straight A’s on the dean’s list — she’s prone to success.

“They drill it into you in art school that you’re going to fail,” she says. “I’m actually way ahead of where I thought I was going to be at this point in my life.”

‘CUBEMUSIC,’ ‘Pulp Culture: Of and About Paper,’ ‘Art Center Sarasota Instructor’s Show’ and ‘miniatures’
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7. Runs through Jan. 3
Where: Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Free
Info: Call 365-2032 or visit


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