Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014
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?