Sunday, March 12, 2006

Curate Your Own Museum

The WaPo's Linda Hales has an interesting article that describes the project that the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is about undertake. She writes:

The Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is about to take its Web site where no museum has gone before.

Where that is isn't absolutely clear, but it merits getting excited about. The so-called "online national design museum" promises to open the museum and its vast collection to visitors anywhere in the world. What's more, if development can keep up with vision, the site will turn museumgoers into participants in a bold cultural experiment.
Essentially, they're putting the power of the curator out to the masses (I already hear the elitists gasp)
The Cooper-Hewitt's existing site offers a glimpse of what's on view at 91st and Fifth Avenue. Exhibitions can be sampled, but only 500 items from the 250,000-piece collection of decorative arts, industrial and graphic design and fine art are viewable.

The revamped site will allow curators to play catch-up. The museum also wants to enable Web visitors to curate shows and build virtual collections, to circulate favorite digital photos. Web visitors also might be able to fill in the blanks on works that have yet to be researched fully. Shifting the curatorial responsibility might seem risky, but in 2002, a visiting researcher helped the museum by discovering an unsigned Michelangelo in a box of drawings.

"There are experts in the field who have spent whole careers studying a single period," says Matilda McQuaid, who, as deputy curatorial director, will have a leading role in online content. "Put it out there. See what comes."

She wasn't worried about an onslaught of bad taste from amateur curators and would-be designers.

"If enough people think they're awful, they get voted out and deleted from the site," she says. "Majority rules."
Hales takes a curious dig at the Smithsonian's blog Eyelevel when she writes:
The Smithsonian's only museum blog, EyeLevel, was launched by the American Art Museum in September. It drew 50,000 visitors over the first three months. But entry after entry is followed by a tally of "0 comments." There is little of the rat-a-tat-tat of cultural engagement that interactivity promises.
Read the whole article here.

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