Nina Simon: Framing and the Wall Street Journal’s “Everybody’s a Curator”
Two weeks ago, my museum was featured in a Wall Street Journal article by Ellen Gamerman, Everybody’s a Curator. I’m thrilled that our small community museum is on the map with many big institutions around the country. I’m proud we were cast as innovators….
But I also struggled with this article. There was something at the heart of it that bothered me. It took Ed Rodley’s excellent response for me to realize what felt frustrating: the framing.
Community is not a commodity. We don’t involve people in content development to “boost ticket sales.” It’s neither “quick” nor “inexpensive” to mount exhibitions that include diverse community stories. Yes, community involvement is at the heart of our shifted, successful business model. But that business model requires experienced staff who know how to empower people, facilitate meaningful participation, respond to community issues and interests, and ignite learning. It’s not cheap. It’s not easy. It’s the work we feel driven to do to build a museum that is of and for our community.
Where is the community in this article? There are many curator and museum director voices in the article, but not a single quote from a visitor who engaged in one of these community projects. The curators are the humans in the story. The “crowd” is a mechanized mob. I had to imagine the deep conversations visitors had as they deliberated on which painting to vote for. The sense of pride at being part of something bigger than themselves. The curiosity about the work of professional curators and the assigning of aesthetic value….
“Outsourcing” the curatorial impulse, Part One Wednesday, November 05, 2014
Ed Rodley: Everybody’s an Art Curator?
Well, no. But everybody could learn about curation.
My problems with Gamerman’s article are many, but they break down into a few large clumps. There’s this false tension between scholarship and popularity/financial gain, a ton of generational baiting, and lastly, some fascinating observations about the museum industry today.
“Outsourcing” the curatorial impulse, Part Two
Ed Rodley continues: Let your voice be heard!
What is needed is a clearer voice than the standard 20th century disembodied “institutional voice” that is still prevalent in the field: “…increasingly that museums need opinions, and that means that more than ever their exhibitions benefit from being opinionated. Sometimes the opinion that needs to be stated is that of those voices least frequently heard in museums (some – but not all – participatory exhibit projects might fall into this category) and well served by ‘community sourcing’, but other times it’s a need to have an upfront, loud, curatorial voice….”
How to view art: Be dead serious about it, but don’t expect too much