Thesis Update: Collaboratively Curated Exhibitons

In The Poetic Museum Julian Spalding states, “Museums are dinosaurs today; they now need to evolve into birds.” The mission of my thesis is to better understand community curation and alternative forms of curatorial practice, which fall under the umbrella of collaborative curation. I’m interested in this topic because of its promotion of community engagement, the enhancement of relationships between communities and their museums, shared collective wisdom, and meaning making. I think that the use of collaborative curation could help museums, as Spalding puts, evolve into birds.

I’ve learned a lot of new terms and ideas about collections and engagement in museums through my research to date. The biggest realization I’ve had is that cabinets of curiosity, which is where my thesis work began, may not be the best way to communicate a story within a museum setting. While I still think c.o.c is uniquely and aesthetically interesting I’m seeing less of a place for the model in my thesis. Spalding states, “Authoring a museum in a single period in history limits its capacity to respond to its own age” (pg.57). From the research I’ve done thus far I feel that collections can be used to tell meaningful stories given the right method of display and interpretation involving those outside of the museum as part of the process.

Another important observation that has been reasserted in all of my research and conversations is that museums are not fixed entities. In order to remain relevant they must evolve with their communities and act as learning institutions. With this information I’ve decided a key piece of my case studies will be looking at how the institutions have evolved after their first collaboratively curated exhibit. It will be important for me to analyze both current exhibits and past exhibits.
So far I’ve had interviews with Cassie Chin, director of the Wing Luke, and Megan Grimm-Atwood, Exhibits Manager at the Independence Seaport Museum. For each interview I made separate questionnaires. The one for WL focused on their community process model, which will be my example of community curation. The ISM questionnaire was specific to community gallery spaces. Writing questions and thinking about how best to utilize my time with them was an important exercise that helped me narrow my thoughts and pick out the most essential pieces of my thesis. Both interviews were good learning experiences and a start in the right direction. I’m finding that several institutions feel similarly about their different collaborative-curated efforts. From both I learned that success is difficult to define when your exhibitions are happening on a learning curve. After our conversations I’m also interested in learning more from the marketing side of things. I want to know more about how these exhibitions are marketed and how that may affect both who participates and who attends.
Independence Seaport Museum original Community Gallery space.
SS United States Exhibition in the Community Gallery Series space at the ISM.
My internship ends on Thursday, which will allow more time for thesis work. The first thing on my agenda is to transcribe both interviews and reach out to both interviewees with any follow up questions or material requests.