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AAMC blog post 2013

Posted By Al Miner, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Monday, July 22, 2013
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 project.

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 country.

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