This year’s AAMC conference in New York provided a platform
for discussions that went on far longer than the sessions themselves. Two sessions in particular sparked dialogue
about the relationships between curators and other museum staff, namely
educators and development officers.
A panel entitled "Museums and Civic Responsibility” proved
to be about more and different issues than I’d expected. Audience engagement has been a hot topic in
museums for several years, but institutions have met the challenge in very
diverse ways. What I thought would be
about visitor services, outreach to under-served communities, and possibly the
use of technology to engage audiences on local issues took an interesting turn
when Salvador Salort-Pons of the DIA shared his museum’s approach to education
and curation. The relationship between
educators and curators has long been complex and is changing rapidly. I and others that I spoke with later in the
conference were quite frankly shocked to learn of the level of participation
DIA educators have in the curatorial process.
Whereas at my home museum, the MFA, Boston, educators enter the picture
when labels and gallery text are written and after a show opens steering some
related programming, at the DIA an educator is paired with a curator from a
show’s inception and has a lot of say in the delivery of a curator’s project
and also in its concept and approach. To
learn that educators there write the labels and curators edit them, as opposed
to the opposite tactic, among other such responsibilities caught me by
surprise. Have educators overstepped
their bounds? Is the traditional art of
curating itself at risk of extinction?
Will educators play an increasingly active role in shaping content
itself? Very interesting indeed.
Another complicated and sometimes fraught relationship is
that between curators and development staff.
With funding growing increasingly scarce for all museums the few grants to
be had are especially prized and the application process more competitive than
ever. The workshop on grant writing
hosted at the Museum of Arts and Design was illuminating and tremendously
helpful. What do granting organizations
want to see? What makes a successful
proposal? James Bewley of the Warhol
Foundation, an organization vital to the work of contemporary curators such as
myself, strongly cautioned against allowing development staff to write
proposals for curators revealing that his panelists could sniff out such
applications easily and are inclined to dismiss them. How does the average over-taxed curator find
the time to write these important documents?
How would that affect the relationship with and role of their
development officer(s)? I have plans to
meet with one of my grant writers to review my notes in relation to an upcoming
Attending this year’s conference was an enriching
experience, which provided me greater insight into the changing face of our
field and lasing connections with great colleagues at intitutions across the