Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Crowd-sourcing Curators

A few days ago, I found myself down one of the most interesting Internet wormholes I have been down in a while. It began with the Wall Street Journal article “Everybody’s a Curator,” which is worth a thorough read. The article addresses an emerging trend of “crowd-sourcing” museum exhibits and new tools for audience involvement, such as curating by popularity through votes and polling and directing viewers to social media. The WSJ describes these exhibition tactics as “quick and often inexpensive shows that boost ticket sales” due to their word-of-mouth generated excitement and mass appeal. Having just closed a “crowd-sourced” exhibition where I work, I can attest to the general public’s enjoyment of the show and the larger buzz created by nearly a hundred living artists or art enthusiasts excited to have their work in a museum. I can also attest to the huge headache the show was to the museum staff, which lead me down the next wormhole.

I looked up Nina Simon, director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, who is featured in the WSJ article, and finds the framing of “crowd-sourcing” museums problematic. The idea that museums are engaging in this new tactic because it’s a “quick” and “inexpensive” way for museums to make money and an easy way to cobble together a show does not sit right with me.  On her blog, Nina Simon writes “community is not a commodity” meaning the goal of involving a community to put together an exhibition, or vote on their favorite piece, is not to use the community to boost sales, but just the opposite.

Museums exist for the benefit of the public, so, shouldn’t the public have a say? Of course, we need traditional pillars of  the museum institution too, with curators to provide exhibitions that educate, inform, and inspire and contemporary curators to create history for the emerging artists. But the idea that the community a museum serves cannot or should not be involved in that process – and the idea that their involvement is some sort of exploitation is far off the mark.

What do others think?

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4 comments on “Crowd-sourcing Curators

  1. shrulala
    November 6, 2014

    This is interesting opinion that crowd sourcing from the community might be offensive or off the mark. In fact I would think that this would open doors for more dialogues and interest from the community if they are invested in the venture.
    I’m really excited of the possibilities of crowd sourcing and the power of a collective voice to think that it may go wrong!

  2. evanjsanderson
    November 6, 2014

    This is a great article – thanks for posting it! I don’t know a whole ton about the art world, but from the readings we’ve done in the RAND study it seems like this initiative undermines the “tastemakers” of art that tend to be art critics and experts (the lords of art discourse). But it only does so to a certain extent, because the public art being shown isn’t necessarily being purchased, right? This process of crowd sourcing an art exhibit seems to have dual aspects: the community choosing what’s displayed, and the community submitting it’s own (sometimes non professional) art work.

    I’m trying to think about this if a performing arts institution were to do something similar. Say, having random, non trained actors come and perform a show on the stage of the Huntington. But that’s actually what ends up happening sometimes! I’ve worked with a lot of actors who have no training, who just wanted to get involved, and are absolutely brilliant. I think the quality of work is subjective to a degree, but we know something great when we see it. So hopefully the crowd sourcing phenomena cleaves this idea and helps prop up art that NEEDS to be seen and not art that COULD be seen, It breaks down the walls of the “content-gate”, and that is both exciting and dangerous to the status quo.

  3. amyjoforeman
    November 7, 2014

    Yes, museums are for the public, but let’s not go crazy letting them pick art. We have experts for that. I love the idea of involving the public by letting them vote on curation. It makes them feel attached to an exhibit or museum. It might even boost awareness of the exhibit. However, I think this concept has a time and a place in just a small fraction of museum exhibits. As a museum goer, I want to know the exhibit was curated by an expert! Not my neighbors.

    I’d like to find the best of both worlds here. Maybe the community can vote on a few pieces that will complement the larger exhibit.

  4. yaoge2016
    November 7, 2014

    Thanks for the post! It seems that in performing arts, there are lots of voluntary and spontaneous performers involving in the creation process, many of whom may not have expertise in the area. However, for the visual arts, I think the value of art works from amateurs might be limited, both on skills and connotation. I mean no offense, but apart from the buzz, the real value created by the crowd-sourcing process is the participating experience of community numbers instead of those art pieces themselves. After all, if you don’t involve in the curatorial practice, you will be nourished less than visiting an exhibit curated by an expertise, and the people ingratiated are only those community numbers.

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