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.
About the author
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