Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

Everyone can curate – not ?

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The curated bookshelf. Photo by Val Ravaglia. CC-BY-NC-SA.

The curated bookshelf. Photo by Val Ravaglia. CC-BY-NC-SA.

If we strip out the myriad social and administrative tasks of the real-life curator – the connections, the negotiations, the shipping and hanging and lighting and writing – we can arrive at a pretty simple job description: good curation is the discovery and display of unexpected or heretofore unknown patterns and flows in visual culture. So why can’t a computer do that?
Art Fag City

Since the verb ‘curate’ and noun ‘curator’ have been appropriated by the digital world I have been intrigued by the strong opinions especially by museum folks that it’s wrong to use the word ‘curate’ about people who are pinning photos to Pinterest.

So what if we take a look out there to  see some uses of the word ‘curation’:

‘The content curator is the next emerging disruptive role in the content creation and distribution chain.‘ /Robin Good

‘Anyone can “curate” online material, pulling together their own collections.’ /Rethinking Learning

‘Facebook and Twitter are, at their roots, curations of our present selves.’ /Columbia Spectator, 040212

The site Edudemic offers ’20 free and fun ways to curate web content’.

Some even ask ‘An Algorithmic Future: Can Computers Curate?’/Art Fag City

A very interesting project is  Open CuRate ‘a project with FACT looking at how curation is changing in online culture and trying to make FACT a more open space – more talking with real people. It is looking into its education programme, its spaces and how everyone now curates online, not just the people near the top of the chain at galleries.’

The word curation is used to describe the act of gathering and displaying web content in a way that it’s given a new context and therefore telling new stories. Not only are we talking about scrap booking women (and men) using Pinterest but about consulting brand specialists and content managers.

Some aren’t that thrilled about this development, and some even believe this is undermining the role of the real museum curator, that scrap booking online isn’t equivalent to curating.

‘Stop it. Just stop. Do you have a business card? Read it. Does it say “Curator” under your name? No? You are not a curator.’ /Hermitage Collection Connection

‘At the same time we’ve seen the spread of the verb ‘curate’, and the noun ‘curator’. Some people even want appropriate credit for their online ‘curatorial’ skills.’ /Fresh & New(er)

‘It’s called curation if you like it, aggregation if you don’t’/Gigaom.com

And others aren’t that worried:

‘curating is definitely a word that has entered zeitgeist kind of fashion, but I suppose the wider use of the word — even when it’s not in the correct context — gives the profession a certain visibility, and hopefully some understanding of what that it actually is. ‘ /Phoenix New Times Blog

This discussion is very interesting and certainly putting the museum curator in the spotlight. What are we actually doing at work? Something in fact anyone can do? I like how Seb Chan is straight forwardly questioning if curating exhibitions is not much more elaborate than creating a mixtape:

‘Researching and then assembling a narrative told by music selections to communicate messages of love, hate, ambivalence, or just to assert your superior (sub)cultural capital – that’s what making a mixtape was all about. Exhibitions, in their most primal form, are not that different.’ /Fresh & New(er)

I myself embrace the word curate, when people scrap book online using f.ex. Pinterest. I will happily explain why in a blog post further on.

Why i was intrigued by this discussion in the first place is because I have been asked to lecture for future curators on the role of digital in museums today, and I have been asked to discuss the role of digital skills in the cultural heritage sector with lecturers. I have also been asked to do a workshop for museum staff about the need for digital awareness today (and the impact of digital anno 2012 on their department).

The discussion around the words ‘curate’ and ‘curators’ is a perfect occasion to put the spotlight on, and to (re-)establish the role of, the museum curator in the age of the social web.

The museum curator today has as a diverse a role as ten different professions. Should the museum curator focus on being the area expert? Should they leave the digital to web folks? Should they develop their communication skills for the online audience (if so to which extent?). Etc. Etc.

In some upcoming blog posts I will go further into the definition of the curator, from a Swedish perspective, and try to determine the need for digital skills today.

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