Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Crowdsourcing Curation

Everybody is a curator. That’s the premise behind new initiatives that many museums are taking in exhibition planning, allowing visitors and amateur art enthusiasts to determine what gets hung on the walls, and at times, even to contribute art to be shown.

I understand the draw for museums here – they seem to be saving money by crowdsourcing and the MFA Boston noted gaining 10,000 new email addresses (presumably these people are now potential new visitors or members for them, also gaining money). But personally I think it’s sort of gross to compromise the exhibit quality just for money or crowds.

People are professionals for a reason. Most curators go through a decade or more of schooling to be experts in their fields. While crowds can vote to put what they like on display, what about exhibits that challenge our thinking, challenge what we think art can be, or bring up difficult topics. It’s interesting, as the case with Frye museum notes, that it is not always the seemingly most famous works that get voted to be shown, and this certainly could present an interesting opportunity for lesser known works in these major collections to get viewing space. But curators put more thought into exhibits than which pieces are popular or not. A well curated show has a narrative and ties the works on view together in a way that changes the visitors thinking. I cannot help but feel this will inevitably be lost in these crowdsourced exhibits.

I’m curious what you all think. Has anyone been to a crowdsourced exhibition? Would you like to participate in one?

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3 comments on “Crowdsourcing Curation

  1. cayleycarroll
    October 29, 2014

    Great article.

    I have never been to a crowdsourced museum though I would like to participate in one, especially if it had an education component. If art experts were available guide the amateur curator and provide insight on the history of the pieces and tips on curation I would be the first to sign up. Because the museums are outsourcing labor (in a way), it is important for them to compensate by making the experience as valuable to the patron as possible.

  2. sarasps85
    October 29, 2014

    Reblogged this on Survey of Arts Management and commented:
    It’s not an easy question and it goes back to the “eternal” issue of the role of the curator. Who is he programming for? Should cultural programs only focus on serving the “crowds”?
    I agree with Cayley on the importance of context. I think if there is a good educational approach trying to
    connect the audiences with what is being shown, there will always be a positive outcome. Only recently I heard about museums using crow funding as a financial source and I think I wanna wait and see before I have a position on the matter.

  3. zeniasimpson
    October 29, 2014

    I’ve seen many sites like Curiator and to some extent Artsy (and one that starts with a P that I’m forgetting as well as the Museum of Important Shit) that allows people to curate art online. There are even competitions like one between Artsy and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation that allows people to come up with their own original exhibition that artsy and the foundation would fund and have presented at the university (since its a university-level competition) that wins. While I enjoy people having a hands-on role in curating of museums, curating isn’t about popularity of works of art, but rather new scholarship and ways of presenting and showing art and theories of art to a larger audience including academics and the general public. When curating becomes something that anyone can do at a museum-level, we run the risk of turning contemporary art and criticism into a Tumblr blog. However, I do appreciate programs and platforms such as ones mentioned because it does engage audiences in different ways with art collections and allows them to explore art on their own which thus furthers art’s role in society.

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