Why ‘citizen’ + ‘curators’?

We had a spate of responses on Twitter when we started the call for #citizencurators – asking why we were using the terms. What did the project have to do with citizenship and was it an appropriate use of the term curator?

All good questions. Firstly, why ‘citizen’?

The project is essentially asking how Londoners live through a major event. We thought of using the term Londoners, or specifying that we were looking for the involvement of residents, people who worked in London and people who had connections to London. But the term citizen made most sense. We want to connect with people who have a clear sense of being part of, and belonging to, London. And this is not just locational, it is also political. The Olympic Games is much more than a global sporting event, obviously. Packaged as London2012 it is presented as a manifestation of civic identity. Through funding, governance and marketing it is less held at less than an arms length from the national and city governments. There is no doubt that all Londoners are experiencing the event of the Olympics, and all its ramifications and its impact on their life within London through direct or indirect channels. And they are experiencing this as citizens of London.

The use of the term ‘curator’ comes about for very different reason. The genesis of the project was in discussions with Museum Studies groups about the future of curatorial practice and contemporary collecting: how far could curatorial processes be devolved to enable the voice of communities to be heard? Did participation in social history projects mean that some of the curatorial roles of selecting, gathering and establishing the value of material could be given over to ‘honorary curators’ who were working on behalf of a museum?

We considered initially calling the project ‘Citizen Collectors’ as our group would be ‘collecting’ tweets and objects. But it didnt quite ring true and indicate the depth to which we were trying to operate.

The term ‘curator’ has gone through many shifts in the past fifty years or so, and other people have documented this better than I can here. Obviously within the museum, the traditional role of the curator as responsible for a collection still exists, but so to does the more recent concept of ‘curating’ being to devise exhibitions that arose when it was modified into a verb.  [I'd be interested if anyone with a knowledge of etymology could say when this actually took place!]. And more recently in the arts, the concept of curating (as in the ‘curatorial turn’) has taken a step beyond meaning the stewardship or organisation of cultural material to mean creating a critical context around an event, project or activity. New media has also taken language in a different direction and, in the way a huge number of terms are being adapted to mean something in the digital world that they hadnt in the analogue world, the term ‘curate’ is being used to mean to sift, sort, sample, decipher or re-present anything from raw code to any form of content on any platform. It has begun to mean something akin to ‘to make sense of’.

This is the rather complex layering of context that this project is placed in. It is a museum project, but it is also a form of online exhibition, and it is working with digital media through social networks. To call our project participants ‘curators’ therefore makes sense as it not only describes what they are doing but it brings together all the different bases.

But on top of that it needs to be said that this is an action research project. One of the characteristics of action research is that all the elements of a project can be made available for scrutiny. Through this project we are trying to discover what works effectively and what is viable practice to be repeated. If the terms and references we used aren’t appropriate they will be changed in future. If our way of networking with our participants and our community is flawed we will likewise change that. The project carries a lot of assumptions: finding ways to openly examine them is desirable.

Peter Ride

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About citizencurators

Life in London during the Games #Citizencurators is a history project that will record the experience of Londoners during the Olympic fortnight. Created for the Museum of London #Citizencurators will collect tweets, moments and images using social networking to tell the story of everyday life in the capital.

4 thoughts on “Why ‘citizen’ + ‘curators’?

  1. Still wonder what criteria will be used in the selection of citizen curators. Age? Location? Ethicity? Religion? Sexuality? How they look in a bathing costume? I guess we may never know.

    • Hi Glenn, thanks for your comments on the blog and your Tweet! We are looking for as wide a selection of people on Twitter using the #citizencurators hashtag as possible! In terms of our 6 #citizenjournalists and 6#objectcollectors again they will be as diverse a group of people as possible including location, ethnicity, religion, sexuality…. The only specific criteria around our specific 12 people is that they need to be 18 or over. Ultimately we would like Londoners to use the #citizencurators hashtag when they tweet about their daily life during the 2 weeks of the games. It’s as diverse as those on Twitter. Please start using the the #citizencurators hashtag! We’ll be in touch soon…

    • Sorry Glenn, for the lateness of this reply. It got over-taken by our exchange on twitter. But for everyone else’s benefit we are looking at getting a range of people. That’s partly about some of the points above (minus the visual appeal one!). But essentially we want people who are going to be committed to recording what is happening in London. This project is entirely about achieving a quality of content, not soundbites, demographics or stats.

  2. Pingback: curator/curated/curating | Curating the Global City

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