Administrators and curators often speak different languages. The director of the Graham Foundation is fluent in both, as she has proven by spearheading Chicago’s inaugural architectural biennial.
Make no mistake: Sarah Herda is not a curator. Though she organized the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015 and serves as director of the city’s Graham Foundation, which hosts three exhibitions a year, one of which originates at the institution, Herda has long shunned that particular title. “I prefer ‘exhibition maker,’” explains the inveterate multitasker, but she pauses to rethink the nomenclature. Most standard job titles fail to convey the full scope of her professional responsibilities: “I also happen to be very involved in the audits and taxes.”
After years of pondering such honorifics, Herda simply created her own for the Chicago Architecture Biennial. Having worn many hats at some of the most influential nonprofits, think tanks, and galleries in the American architectural milieu, she devised a title that seemingly explains it all. In her capacity as co-artistic director of the 2015 biennial—she shared the billing with architect and editor Joseph Grima—Herda oversaw multiple facets of the exhibition. Together, the directorial duo selected the 130-odd participating architects and artists, supervised installation, and developed off-site programming. Just as crucially, they saw to a whole host of other numerous departments, including fund-raising (the pair supported Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Mayor’s Office in securing venues and raising the biennial’s $5 million budget). Herda doesn’t hesitate to draw on her wide range of skills in order to get things done. “I feel that’s really important,” she says. “Sometimes things get siloed, like there’s administration and then there’s curatorial. I’ve always worked in organizations where that’s all connected.”