Will citizen curators be next?
November 19th, 2009

A MacArthur Foundation article titled Selling Museums to a Tough Audience: Teens describes a meeting where 23 leading museum people commiserated about the rejection of museums by the youth:

Even though this group was hardly the ostriches, they all grappled with the constraints of the current system—from physical structures to limited budgets. What happens to intellectual copyrights? How do you digitize three-dimensional objects? And who’s the boss here? Do we really want 14-year-olds telling us what to exhibit and how?

Lurking behind many of these questions is an issue that crops up a lot in this digital world—who is the expert, who is the editor, who is the curator? How much democracy do we really want?

“Some say, ‘no, we need curators,’” says Elizabeth Babcock, vice president of education and library collections at Chicago’s Field Museum. “Others say, ‘no, that’s what’s wrong with curating. It presumes to know what is interesting. They’re delivering what they think people want.’”

This latter approach, says Michael Edson, director of web and new media strategy at the Smithsonian, risks making museums obsolete. Millennials—those born between the late 1970s and the early 1990s—recently told a focus group that the Smithsonian “is not an institution that understands me.”

This generation demands a lot more. It’s no longer about the Smithsonian saying, “We’re great. Come and love us,” says Edson. Instead, museums must come to terms with opening up their collections for wider access and creating more citizen curators. . . .

The article continues by describing some curating projects integrating the digital world. These projects were demonstrated when teens entered the meeting. This connecting as curating was called “cool” by some teens who participated in the demos.


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