Apparently the biggest myth about the curatorial profession is that curators working for different museums around the world are venerable old gentlemen with glasses and beards dressed in suits with elbow patches. Quite the opposite in fact- the worldwide #AskACurator twitter event on the 19th of September brought out curators in droves from different corners of the world all united in their quest to answer the thousands of questions being fired at them by museum enthusiasts.
I stumbled upon it by accident but was sucked in and before I knew it I was tweeting more than I had ever done before. The museums in Australia had already ended their sessions by the time I found this event but the museums in Europe – probably the most enthusiastic lot (although I cannot comment on the American museums- had to sleep you see!) were just about opening their doors. The event was slated to have about 600 museums from around the world participating in it, but as the day drew along many other museums ( I could almost imagine the curators being plucked hastily out of their day jobs and made to sit in front of computer screens with new questions appearing at the speed of light. On the other hand some major museums already had a serious plan and timetable about which curators would be answering and when) and serious enthusiasts who were not in the original line up just jumped in the bandwagon and began answering questions.
Questions ranged from simple and thoughtful to complex and provocative. Popular questions included “how does one become a curator?” (Answer: start early, learn a lot about your field of interest, volunteer!), “how many items do you have in your collection?” and so on. I myself asked about “the challenges of curating” (to balance economic perspective with scientific care, public tastes and so on). One of my queries was also about how curators managed to keep up to date especially in realms where digital media was helping certain art forms/ expressions explode in different directions (the answer was that you can’t keep up with everything but reading, engaging with others helps). Answers came in from big and small, conventional and quirky museums.
I drew inspiration from a fellow twitter questioner and made a pinterest pinboard on the kind of objects curators would save before imminent disaster. Take a look for yourself at some of the answers- http://pinterest.com/sramanujan/things-that-museum-curators-would-save-on-doomsday/. (The one I drew inspiration from was about the objects that made curators laugh by Erica Taylor- http://pinterest.com/erikat80/museumsarefun/)
Of course twitter being what it is, it was impossible to get answers for all questions as there was literally an avalanche of questions raining in on curators. Some of the big museum names overwhelmed with more direct questions in fact seemed slightly more sluggish than quirky specialist museums who were diving in to spread the cheer. The Getty museum made a smart move and posted longer answers on their blog to the questions coming in from twitter, apart from their twitter versions.
Apart from the unique opportunity to directly talk to curators in a variety of fields (not just art but technology, anthropology, natural history and so on), the occasion also proved helpful in discovering new museums to visit. Lunt Fort and the Roman Legion Museum in Wales are definitely on my to do list. Now how else could I have discovered them? And more importantly I managed to wrangle a personal invitation from the Museum of Chocolate (Musee du Chocolat) in Strasbourg, France. And yes they will save chocolate from annihilation in the event of a global catastrophe so we can rest in peace.
The prize for the most enthusiastic curators definitely had to go the Musee de Cluny who were up until virtually midnight local time answering questions. Bravo to them! though they evaded my question of what they would save in the face of a catastrophe with a politically correct “De grace, ne parlons pas de malheur” (Roughly translated as let’s not talk about evil things!)- Well met I say!
A big thank you to all the museums that participated and the curators. And a special thanks to all those who found the time to answer my questions- Museo MAXXI, Staatl Museen Berlin, Pitt Rivers Museum, Herbert Art Gallery, Palazzo Madama TO, Chateau de Versailles, SVRBridgnorthstation, Chiddingstone Castle, River & Rowing Museum, Abbey Museum, Musee de Cluny, Access Artefacts, Science Museum, Rijks Museum, The Higgins Bedford, Maritiem Museum, Wolves Art Gallery, Naturalis, Ashmolean Museum, Regal Cinema Tenbury, Coventry Transport Museum, Ohio Historical Society, Kalamazoo Museum, Musee du Chocolat, Avoncroft Museum, Harley Davidson Museum, Fort York Museum, Roman Legion Museum, Postal Museum, AM History Museum and McClung Museum. Thanks also to the Paul Getty Museum, Tate and National Galleries for favouriting or retweeting my tweets. It was truly an awesome day!