Friday, August 6, 2010

Curating up a storm…

I curated up a storm this week. There was a film series, several music playlists, and an exhibition.

Wait. I think I heard a chorus of voices – crying out in the museological wilderness. Are they trying to tell me I didn't curate anything but an exhibition?

See – This is my problem with the curatorial profession right now. There is a certain jealousness about the title that needs to be overcome. And there is a redefinition that must be acknowledged if museums are to (in the grand old words of Freeman Tilden) be relevant to their visitors.

We need to allow those who may not be traditionally be thought of as 'curators' to co-opt the title. And we need to look at what they are doing. Because I think we might just learn something.

I remember when I first assumed the mantle of 'curator' a few years back. A dear friend of mine called to congratulate me. She was effusive about my new job and very happy for me. But she paused during the call – and asked, quite sincerely – 'so, what exactly *is* a curator, anyway?'

Funny thing was – I really couldn't answer.

Oh – I could tell her what the dictionaries said, and what other curators told me. And I knew how I thought others would define it. But as I thought about her question later – I realized that I needed to codify it for myself. And what I wrote and said was not what many curators believed. Yet I steadfastly hold to my definition, despite the heartache and thousand natural shocks that the profession is heir to. To do otherwise is tantamount to treason in my book.

Curators need to be open to possibilities beyond their collection of watercolours, arachnids or (in my case) bits of Civil War ironclad. And they need to get out of the collective snit that the profession has adopted about the way that other people have coopted the title. Personally, I LOVE the fact that musicians curate music festivals. I LOVE the fact that designers curate collections of shoes or clothes or whatever. I LOVE the fact that people think enough of the title to take it for their own. We should be happy about this – not crying out that we deserve the title and they do not. As our colleague N. Elizabeth Schlatter from the University Of Richmond Museums wrote in a recent AAM article about the rapper/DJ Ludacris curating a show: "So if Ludacris is a curator, perhaps curators should become DJs."

I love you, Elizabeth. You've hit it on the head.

Heck – I think I was a curator before I even knew what one was – principally because I was a DJ. And no matter what you have done in your museum world – whether you are a curator, conservator, educator or custodian – chances are you have performed a curatorial act at some point in your life. Let's dissect it, shall we? A 'curator' researches things in the collection, cares for things in the collection, and ultimately chooses things from the collection which have meaning for an exhibition. Then creates a forum in which those things have context. Have meaning.

Hmmm. I researched songs, cared for the records, CDs and now mp3s in mine and others' collections, and then carefully chose those musical moments for a particular radio show. And I gave them meaning and context by juxtaposing one song against another. I was connecting one artist or song with another in that same way a paintings curator places two works of art in proximity to one another. Curators write labels. Good DJs speak them.

So I ask you - Have any of you or your friends or your families ever carefully crafted a mixtape, CD or iTunes playlist for someone or some event? Then have you not curated it? Is it any different than an exhibition when you really look at the bones of What. It. Is?

I know not everyone out there will agree with me. And that's ok because you don't have to. But I do welcome the discussion that this post may bring.

So what did I curate this week? Well – you'll just have to come to my museum to find out. I can tell you that it involved some bits of Civil War ironclad, arachnids, watercolours, radioactive dinosaurs and Blue Oyster Cult.

Yeah. I curated up a storm this week.

1 comment:

Miss M's Mom said...

Hey, thanks for the nice article mention! Very kind of you. :) Elizabeth