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Labels: narrative environments
Labels: narrative environments
Definition: Curator:manager, superintendent, supervisor, overseer; keeper; guardian (Latin)
Close to the heart of a Museum Curator, even a thoroughly modern one, is the love of the collection – our store of 'our' precious things. We love them, we spend out time looking after them, writing about them, talking about them, showing them off, we handle them with loving care, cradling them carefully in gloved hands, storing them in pristine tissue-paper, in specially made, contamination-free containers, publishing them in beautifully designed catalogues. We place them on pedestals lit by spotlights, on colour coordinated backgrounds. We almost worship them echoing our origins as custodians of the Temple's treasures.
At the same time most of us are equally devoted to our Museum's subject matter. We want to be academics of history, scientists of nature, critics of art history or sociologists of society and we can find that house-keeping the objects gets in the way of our subject love. Sometimes the Museum curator is parachuted into looking after an alien collection – a collection they know nothing about. At first, it is an alarming feeling – often the Curator is dealing with subject experts on a day to day basis without the necessary intellectual armoury. But soon the intimacy the Curator has with their objects gives them the tools to hold their own amongst the experts, armed with secret knowledge even the most distinguished academic is not normally privy to.
The modern curator is likely to be more orientated to serving the public - the Museum as a customer focussed industry. Their challenge is to increase the public enjoyment of the collection, to maximise the learning potential inherent in the Museum. Alongside the desire to provide a lively visiting experience the Curator has also to focus on maintaining the Museums as a sustainable entity. Visitor Surveys, focus groups, exhibition design, marketing, and business planning are the nuts and bolts to this new type of Curator. The service focussed Curator is the one most in tune with current Government thinking. They increasingly see Museum Curators as deliverers of policy (the current emphasis is in challenging social exclusion, encouraging multi-culturalism) and sometimes they see Museums as engines of civic regeneration rather than custodians of collections.
These then are the three pillars which define the Curator's World. Objects are what makes a museum distinct from any other sort of organisation – without authentic artefacts we would be exhibitions, theme parks, or colleges, think tanks, societies, pressure groups, with them we are a unique type of organisation. Our subjects give us our sense of purpose as we engage with the outside world. Our visitors give us both focus and our legitimacy – it is them that provide us with the justification for filling our cellars with other people's cast-offs, and which allows us us to demand finance from Governments and Trusts.
Being by nature a clumsy person I've never been good with tripods and not being religious I'm not keen on trinities so we need a fourth pillar - most often this is the Museum building. Often it is a valuable piece of architecture in its own right – either an historic building or an iconic piece of architecture. What the Curator can do, and the vision the Curator hopes to impose are circumscribed as much by the building as by the Collections, the subject, or the visitors. The building is the stage on which we present our visions. But the building is not just a physical entity it houses an institution with its own history and practices sanctioned by time. The founder, the range of his collection, who are and who selects the Trustees, the very institutional history these are also vital factors that shape the destiny of the modern Museum.
To understand a Museum the student needs to get to grips with these 4 pillars that define the Museum. Collections, Subject Matter, Public, Institutional setup. Museums themselves use them to shape their own mission statements – the key to the understanding any modern museum.
This was the prologue to my book on Museums - but I have now completely revised the idea so it is now a piece looking for a home.
Interesting stuff about London, Museums and HeritageHistory Museums London Archaeology Narrative Environments