A generation ago, curators entered museum work with the full expectation that they — by virtue of past practice and their own significant subject expertise — would provide the singular voice of authority over their collections. In the past ten years or more, curators have found this expectation almost completely upended. Museum directors are reconsidering the role of the curator, what viewpoint the institution presents in an exhibition, and who chooses what objects for exhibitions. The curatorial perspective has been found to be too narrow, too personal, too internally-focused, and often overly intellectual. Others complain that the curator-driven exhibition does not consider visitors’ learning styles, what visitors care about, and that curators have routinely failed to take into consideration others’ viewpoints. Curators are pushing back, concerned that their expertise and content knowledge are not valued. Others curators are concerned that in a Wiki world everyone is called a “curator,” further eroding the significance of that title.
This class will explore various ways in which the curator’s role has substantively changed/evolved from that of content expert and storyteller. We’ll discuss the impetus for some of these changes, including new expectations of visitors seeking user-driven experiences, concerns about how visitor disinterest may threaten institutional income, the greater voice afforded to sponsors/funders, and the realization that visitors have not always been well-served by curatorial interpretation. Case studies and guest speakers will help us understand the challenges that museums, as reflected in the changing role of the curator, are facing.