Curating: Everyone’s Doing It

Curating is not just for museums anymore

At the initial rise of social media, everyone was a self-proclaimed guru. Then last summer, everyone hopped on the entrepreneur bandwagon. The newest buzzword making the rounds? Curator.

The popularization of curating is a great thing for museums. It’s also a great thing for nonprofits grappling to describe what they are doing in this people-driven economy.

As Lucy Bernholz describes in her latest blog post, lots of folks are curating nowadays. Or, using curating as the new way to express actions of coordinating, producing, and organizing for public consumption. For example,  Pop!Tech, TED, and TEDx did not produce or organize their talks, Lucy found. Rather, they claimed to have curated them.

A curator is commonly known as a keeper of  cultural heritage, and as a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections. They are trained specialists with a keen eye toward making content accessible to the public. With this in mind, the desire to curate– or be associated with curating– makes sense. Creating culture, making connections, and getting people to feel connected is a big aim for nonprofit and for-profiteers.

No doubt the word has grown out of the museum flowerpot and taken root in the new way businesses and organizations develop strategic plans. I cannot help but think that this a big step forward for museums, libraries, and archives. The word curator, once solely used in these institutions, created an intellectual barrier between the well-educated staffers, and presumably less-educated museum visitors. As the word becomes popularized, the ivory tower of over-educated museum inaccessibility breaks down. It also puts museums at the front-end of the trend, as they employed curators for decades if not centuries before a for-profit company hired a formal event curator.

Curating has come to mean not just producing, but something of producing for the public. Thus, curating is an effective verb for nonprofits to use that embeds the task of interaction, storytelling, and public understanding.

Maybe we are even changing the word. Maybe, in the future, the word “curating” will be more associated with community engagement than with item arrangement, more connected to social media than to location-based planning, and more overtly focused on the present than the past.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

4 Responses to Curating: Everyone’s Doing It

  1. robertlfs

    Very interesting. We are not in Kansas anymore. I am intrigued that Museums in themselves are much more about community engagement – perhaps curating those engaged experiences

     
  2. Anne Ackerson

    I like it and I like your take on it, Colleen.

     
  3. Elizabeth C.

    Colleen- I love this post! Way to combine something as specific as museums with something as general as community engagement. Even for a non-expert like me, museums suddenly seem much more accessible and understandable through the lens of curation, and possibly even models for things I curate without even realizing it. Now I aspire to make some other idea accessible in the same way…the question is, what? Hmm. In conclusion, major high five.

     
  4. OJETOLA PHILIP

    Finally, I can have someone to agree with me that I am a curator, and don’t have to earn the ‘right’ to engage the public through the museum just because I have or have not gotten some Degrees in art history, museum management etc.

    You know what? That’s what has made the place looks like a bookish institution.

    Keep up the good work.

     

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