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What is curation?

Curation is not simply the act of collecting disparate items and sloppily slopping theme together. It entails many specialized tasks that are usually best executed by experienced curation experts.


  1. Curation has become quite the buzzword in journalism, social media, technology and marketing. It is often mistakenly used as a synonym for aggregation, but the process of curation is much more complex than simply collecting objects.

    Listen to Peter Alter explain his duties as a curator at the Chicago History Museum.
  2. Two years ago, University of Florida's Mindy McAdams wrote a great post, 'Curation,' and journalists as curators, where she identified seven "aspects of journalistic curation" by examining the job of a museum curator. Here are some voices from curation professionals that speak to each of McAdams aspects of curation.
  3. For museums and galleries, the process of selection involves deciding which artistic works or historic objects should be included in an exhibition. When telling a story, journalists also use a selection process to determine who and what will be in a story. Here, Guimet Museum director Jacques Gies explains the selection process that they employed for an exhibition featuring works by Pakistani artist Rashid Rana.
  4. The selection of the works was made in consultation with the artist. It can be looked at it [in] fives ways: (1) “The Idea of abstract”; (2) “Transcending Tradition”; (3) “Real Time, Other Spaces”, (4) “Between Flesh and Blood”; and (5) “Self in other”.
  5. Once objects have been gathered for an exhibition, the collection must be culled to fit within the gallery space and so to ensure that the independent elements make sense as a whole presentation. This culling process is similar to the one journalists use after gathering all source materials. Mónica Ramírez-Montagut explains how she culled the works of artist KAWS for his first solo exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut.
  6. KAWS has so much work that we could have organized an exhibition four times this size, so we really had to narrow it down to what would give an overall view and also look good.
  7. The museum curator provides context for each piece in a collection. Sometimes, an context can be provided by words or other visual or auditory explanatory notes placed near a piece. Business Insider's Steve Rosenbaum says that "curation is the new role of media professionals." Here is his explanation of how those professions can provide context.
  8. Separating the wheat from the chaff, assigning editorial weight, and -- most importantly - giving folks who don't want to spend their lives looking for an editorial needle in a haystack a high-quality collection of content that is contextual and coherent.
  9. The arrangement of objects within one part of an exhibition influence how they might be interpreted by patrons. Similarly, the way journalists arrange words and images affect how parts of a story will be understood by readers. Curator Jamila Adeli explains why photographs by Pablo Bartholomew were attached by threads and floating freely in an exhibition at the Berlin branch of Bodhi Gallery India.
  10. Memory can be described as an overlapping of pictures. Depending on where the light is directed, something else appears.
  11. For large museum shows with many small galleries and/or collections, the curator has to take into consideration the organization of the whole exhibition. Journalistic editors play this same role when putting together lengthy, complicated stories. Dr. Tobia Bezzola speaks about part of the planning that went into a Picasso exhibition at the Kunsthaus modern art museum.
  12. I have a model of our galleries (1:30 scale) and since there is no time during the week, I will spend an entire weekend planning where each work will be placed, the layout of the galleries, how many walls we need, what can I use from the previous exhibition.
  13. A historic or artistic curator usually has an expertise related to an artist, style or other theme around which an exhibition is created. This is similar to beat reporters who have studied the topic and or neighborhood that they cover. At the Vancouver Aquarium, curator Lee Newman built his expertise through work abroad.
  14. Mr. Newman has extensive aquatic animal collecting and transport experience gained in four overseas field trips to South America and Africa. He also has experience in field conservation work, having been part of the 1996 LV-SSP trip to Uganda.
  15. Real life exhibitions are rarely static, since new artifacts, artistic works and technological advances emerge as time passes. So updating presentations is an important part of a curator's duties. The same holds true for journalists and living stories and topics in digital spaces.
  16. In other words, a content curator is someone "who continually finds, groups, organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online". The most important component of this job is the word "continually."In the real-time world of the Internet, this is critical.
  17. Do people need journalists to curate?
    New curation tools are constantly being developed. Just Google curation tools for a current list of options.

    Does this mean that news and information consumers can and will use those tools, many of them free, to curate content for themselves?

    Some people won't want to spend the time learning and configuring another tool. Others will take the time to create personal curated news collections. But once they click on a headline to read an article, I hope that they aren't always met with pages full of professionally-written prose.
  18. I think the need for curators will increase disproportionately to the number. I don’t think we’ll ever reach a point where there will be too many excellent curators because, like any market economy, there’s a limited pool of resources – in this case, people’s attention and loyalty – so an increase in the number of curators will simply raise the bar for what constitutes great content curation, rather than dilute the art of it. We’ll probably see more of a specialization, with many curators branch