After last week I’ve decided it’s important to workshop my thesis ideas. I’ve attempted to do this through explaining each section of my thesis in no particular order.

The Reason:

Museums face a range of social and recreational competition that is even more fierce in this economy. The ability for people to curate their own lives through social media demands for museums to reassess the visitors role as participants in their exhibitions. The control that we have over our lives and the need to feel a sense of ownership with the institutions and outlets we become involved in is ever increasing as the traditional sense of authorship and curatorship is being challenged. Museums need to prove their worth and sustainability to their communities.

Curatorial practice- definition of collaborative curation


Public History:

Public history is an extension of collaborative curation as it involves encouragement of participation and shared knowledge. Like collaborative curation public history is ever-evolving and flexible. Community curation and the concept of shared authority within institutions sprung from this idea, which took off in the 1960s and 1970s during social justice movements.There is no precise definition of either collaborative curation or public history as both encompass a wide range of practices.

Museum Communication:

This thesis will connect to my study of museum communication because it will explore how to connect the mission of institutions with their communities. It will address the importance of story telling and interpretation. The examples and guide I create will ideally help museums understand ways to reach out to potentially underserved and unconnected community members. This thesis will also stress the importance of building relationships and sustainable practice.


The object component will serve a small portion of my thesis as I look at ways that collaborative curation can make better use of permanent collections. Collections are in the public trust therefore the public should have more access. I will look at ways that the public may offer new interpretation and tell a different story than the institution would with objects from the collection. An example of this will be Fred Wilson’s exhibit “Mining the Museum.”  Wilson used objects to tell a difficult story which both angered and excited the public. The importance of this example will illustrate how the exhibit got a reaction from an otherwise “traditional” institution.


People invest in missions and causes that they have a personal connection to. Community curation is about sustaining relationships and cultivating future donors and advocates for the institution. Smaller institutions with less funding and less foot traffic may rely on these relationships heavily to continue. I will look at how people who pay higher admission prices to larger museums expect more and how collaborative curation may not suit them as it does smaller institutions.

The Model- Case Studies:

Examples of ISM, Wing Luke, and The Walters. These will be examples of different takes on collaborative curation. They will illustrate the evolution of the process and the model and explain that museums must act as learning institutions and be open to “failure” if they take take on these endeavors.

I’m still working out how to fit the crowd sourcing element into my thesis but I feel that it is important to include it somehow.




Back to Basics

I took a month long hiatus from my thesis work and I’m now suffering the consequences. Towards the end of July I was feeling incredibly overworked and overwhelmed. I need a break but maybe not a break as long as the one I decided to take. I can’t waste time wishing I’d devoted more energy to research. The past is over and now it’s time to find my focus and hit the ground hard. Not graduating in December isn’t an option. I’ll devote the next few months to finishing my thesis and hoping I don’t hit too many roadblocks along the way!

My first order of business today after class was to do an inventory of my research. I’ve concluded that I’ve spent too much time looking at various authors and not enough time concentrating on the key players. I also looked over my two building case studies to asses what I have and what I still need to find. The breakdown of my literature review at the moment is as follows:


A key component of my thesis defense is that museums have a lot of recreational and social competitors. In order to remain relevant museums should explore engagement practices. Through these practices they will demonstrate their community value. By involving community members museums have a better shot at building lasting relationships. These relationships can not only positively influence visitors but also the institutions themselves. Collaborative curation is one example of an engagement practice and the one I will be defending in my thesis.

Key players in this section will include Yuha Jung, Bill Adair and Nina Simon. In the next month I’ll read more of their material and I also hope to set up interviews.


I would still like to include a collections section in my thesis. In both interviews that I’ve conducted we spoke about how the museum’s collections play into the collaborative curation process. In this section I need to explain collections management policies. I feel that mentioning the percentage of collections on view and in storage at any given time will support my case. I’d also like to provide a case suggesting that collections are part of the public trust and should therefor by used to better serve their communities.

Curatorial Practice

I’m using Terry Smith’s definition of curation in my thesis which reads, “The title of the curator is assumed by anyone who has a more than minimal role in bringing about a situation in which something creative might be done, who manages the possibility of invention, or even organizes opportunities for the consumption of created objects or orchestrates art-like occasions.” In this section I’ll argue that museums should expand their definition of curation and not limit it to the traditional role of the curator in all cases. I’ll need to continue researching for this section and I plan on reading more from both Terry Smith and Lois H. Silverman.

This weekend I’ll be revisiting my research questions and purpose. Most importantly I need to answer this question- What exactly am I defending?

Progression check in

In The Poetic Museum Julian Spalding states, “Museums are dinosaurs today; they now need to evolve into birds.” The mission of my thesis is to better understand community curation and alternative forms of curatorial practice, which fall under the umbrella of collaborative curation. I’m interested in this topic because of its promotion of community engagement, the enhancement of relationships between communities and their museums, shared collective wisdom, and meaning making. I think that the use of collaborative curation could help museums, as Spalding puts, evolve into birds.

I’ve learned a lot of new terms and ideas about collections and engagement in museums through my research to date. The biggest realization I’ve had is that cabinets of curiosity, which is where my thesis work began, may not be the best way to communicate a story within a museum setting. While I still think c.o.c is uniquely and aesthetically interesting I’m seeing less of a place for the model in my thesis. Spalding states, “Authoring a museum in a single period in history limits its capacity to respond to its own age” (pg.57). From the research I’ve done thus far I feel that collections can be used to tell meaningful stories given the right method of display and interpretation involving those outside of the museum as part of the process.

Another important observation that has been reasserted in all of my research and conversations is that museums are not fixed entities. In order to remain relevant they must evolve with their communities and act as learning institutions. With this information I’ve decided a key piece of my case studies will be looking at how the institutions have evolved after their first collaboratively curated exhibit. It will be important for me to analyze both current exhibits and past exhibits.

So far I’ve had interviews with Cassie Chin, director of the Wing Luke, and Megan Grimm-Atwood, Exhibits Manager at the Independence Seaport Museum. For each interview I made separate questionnaires. The one for WL focused on their community process model, which will be my example of community curation. The ISM questionnaire was specific to community gallery spaces. Writing questions and thinking about how best to utilize my time with them was an important exercise that helped me narrow my thoughts and pick out the most essential pieces of my thesis. Both interviews were good learning experiences and a start in the right direction. I’m finding that several institutions feel similarly about their different collaborative-curated efforts. From both I learned that success is difficult to define when your exhibitions are happening on a learning curve. After our conversations I’m also interested in learning more from the marketing side of things. I want to know more about how these exhibitions are marketed and how that may affect both who participates and who attends.

Yesterday I had a phone meeting with Megan, Exhibits Manager, from the Seaport museum. We spoke about their community gallery space, my intentions regarding my thesis, and our future plans. Megan was extremely helpful and said she would be happy to provide any information that would help me build a case study on the space. I learned more about the gallery and its evolution from starting as a modest hallway to a designated 900 sq ft room. We spoke about the evolution of the collaborative process and about how the institution is still learning and adapting their current model. I also learned that the museum has participated in community curation for past exhibitions and plans to do so in the future.


In the interest of time and focus I have decided to build my case study on essentially one current exhibition, the SS United States: Charting a Course for America’s Flagship. Using this exhibit as my primary example I will also use older exhibits from the museum to compare and contrast about how their process has evolved. I was planning to survey during this exhibition but failed to notice that it comes down in less than two months. Due to my oversight I’ll have to come up with an alternative plan later on. My first in person meeting with Megan is in two weeks. During that time we’ll discuss more about the exhibit, exchange relevant documents, and I’ll snap photos of the space. I’m lucky to have made this contact and I feel that with her help and the museum so close I’ll have a lot of fun with my thesis.

Now for some frustrations…

I’ve had a lot of trouble finding up to date articles on collaborative curation. I’ve had a google alert set up for months now and I’ve yet to receive any helpful articles or leads. I feel that my thesis may lack scholarly support at this time. Much of my reading has focused on community engagement, collections management, and shared authority. I’m hoping that as this process moves along and I speak with more people I’m able to find more directly related information.

I’m having trouble finding the time to contact people for interviews. Between my job and internship I’m stretched thin. In two weeks my internship will be complete and I’m hoping to make this important appointments!

Slowly but Surely

Since my last post I’ve had another meeting with my advsior about my thesis progress. I feel like I am slowly but surely getting down to business. During our last meeting I presented the materials I gathered on museums that I would like to do case studies about. It really helped me to sit down and make lists with contact information and specific exhibitions to inquire about. These lists left me with a main case study for each sector as well as some other examples to fall back on and help illustrate my ideas.

Along with the case studies I also developed sets of questions to ask different museums. These questions are about the basic information pertaining to the exhibitions that I’m not able to find online or through publications. To me the most important question that is for each sector is about defining success. I’m interested in knowing how these different types of institutions define success within their collaboratively curated exhibitions. Whether this be through attendance or even social media outreach it will be extremely interesting to see how they measure success.

The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience model fits wonderfully with my definition of community curation and I’m looking forward to building a case study. The difference between this museum in comparison to the others is that they devote every exhibition to this community centered process. Much to my excitement, the museum makes materials of the model available to website goers and I’ve been examining them closely.


On Monday I have my first phone meeting. I’ll be speaking with the Exhibits Manager of the Independence Seaport Museum about my future survey and case study of their community gallery space. Things are moving along!


The New To Do List

Once again, I’m feeling behind this week! I did meet with my advisor this week and was able to clarify a few thesis questions that I’ve had this summer. I now know what  the case study involves and also the best way to contact the institutions that I would like to speak with. I’ve decided on three concrete case studies with one example for each form of collaborative curation. Within these larger three I’ll have several other smaller examples. I’ll ask these museums for any narrative exhibition information including proposal material and survey results. I’m crossing my fingers and really hoping that my chosen institutions are willing to share this.

At this point I need to come up with specific questionnaires for each place so when I make the phone call I’ll have talking points and a plan. It seems that now that I know exactly what needs to be done it’s taking me longer to muster up the courage to do it. I did speak with someone at the Independence Seaport Museum through email recently, which is where I plan on surveying for a community gallery example. Over these next few weeks I plan on really beginning this process!

With Joseph’s advice I also revisited chapter 8 of Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum. In this chapter Simon has a case study of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. With a little more searching I found that this museum actually has a community process, which involves community members with each exhibit. I’m excited to potentially include this museum in my research and speak with someone involved in the process.

For reading materials I’m currently reviewing the Small Museum Toolkit. This series of books speaks to the communication facet of my thesis. I’ve been reading more about advertising within small museums and community reach. From this series I’ve picked up some terms such as “affinity groups” and “customer evangelists.”

“Museums are dinosaurs today; they now need to evolve into birds.”

Keeping up with posting and researching has been especially difficult this past week. With a new job and an internship I have a full plate and a lack of much needed energy and strength. That being said, I took a short break from pursuing my thesis in order to acclimate to my new schedule. Now that I’ve got a day off I’m working to catch up on my reading.

The Poetic Museum by Julian Spalding has proven to be a worthwhile purchase. I’ve learned a lot of new terms and new ideas about collections. The biggest lesson I’ve gathered from Spalding is that maybe my once beloved idea of the cabinets of curiosity isn’t the best way to tell a story within a museum setting. Especially not with the type of collaborative curation that I’m interested in illustrating.  While I still think c.o.c are uniquely and aesthetically interesting I’m seeing less of a place for the model in my thesis. Spalding states, “Museums need to provide more than curiosities” (pg.75) and also “Authoring a museum in a single period in history limits its capacity to respond to its own age” (pg.57). He is speaking about the many different ways that collections can be used to tell meaningful stories given the right method of display and interpretation. Spalding things that in order for objects to really do this and prove useful in a museum is for them to be more than just items on a shelf.

In this book there is a chapter on looking. Spalding writes, “Collections can only regain their significance in museums if the actual process of looking can become interesting again” (65). After I read this opening sentence I took a moment to think about the way I see things in museums. My attention span is shorter than it was before I was introduced to my smart phone. I miss patience and that genuine feeling of awe I got from museums when I was a child, which is what brought me to where I am today. In order for museums to withhold attention they need to think about ways of seeing. I think that collaborative curation is a way to potentially catch the attention of those that might not otherwise look.