Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Curatorial Voice

The other week, I read an interesting article on AAM's website, from their March/April 2001 issue of Museum News. It was called "Reports of our Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Reconsidering the Curator" and it was written by Nancy Villa Bryk, a curator at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village.
In the article, Villa Bryk traces the evolution of the curatorial role at Greenfield Village, based on her own experiences, in the hope of finding something meaningful and helpful for the field at large. I think her analysis of how curators have moved with the tide (or not) is very interesting. It reminded me of the NEMA curatorial session I attended in November.
In the end, Villa Bryk leaves the reader with some solid advice given by a group of curators at a Michigan Museums Association Conference in the early part of this decade. I've listed that advice here and taken the liberty of bullet pointing some of the separate ideas, for clarity. Food for thought, indeed.

  • Be a superior communicator; listen respectfully and speak effectively with everyone—donors, administrators, visitors, your colleagues—even if you disagree with them.
  • Familiarize yourself with financial planning and marketing.
  • Get to know your visitors better by learning from educators, visitors studies staff, exhibit developers, and the front-line staff. Better yet, get out of your office, help deliver a program, and discover how well it works.
  • Embrace social history and think broadly about interpretation; dig deep to find objects that tell important stories about people and their experiences.
  • Do not hold tenaciously to traditional roles; by moving outside of them you just might wander into exciting new ones you never thought about before. Remember, as you teach others roles you have held fast, you are infusing those skills even more deeply in the organization.
  • Finally, the curatorial role will undergo more change as history museums are reshaped in this next century. Try hard not to take these changes personally.

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