The Curator of the Future

April 19, 2015


SEFM attended the National Programmes Conference: The Curator of the Future at the British Museum earlier this week. The conference brought together hundreds of museum industry professionals to debate the current status of curating in the UK and practical ways to move forward and make the role of the curator more sustainable for the future. The 'sustainable' point of view of the conference is particularly relevant for SEFM, which is why I would like to share a few key points with you.



The Curatorial Survival Kit Sessions


This session analysed the role of the curator and what it means today.


Jonathan Williams, Deputy Director of the British Museum, began the conference by describing museums as 'the lending libraries of the world'. It being significant that there is no BM North, instead choosing to focus on networks, relationships and loans across the country, stating that more people view their works outside of the BM. This certainly opens the collection up to more people across the country, making the practice perhaps socially and culturally sustainable, despite not being particularly environmentally sustainable in terms of the significant levels of transport and energy involved.


Timothy Ewin, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum, focused on the importance of curatorial knowledge as key to collection care, management, exhibitions, and community engagement. Ewin is forming a committee as part of The Campaign for Good Curatorship which will build upon current codes of ethic, set up workshops and publish research. The very basis of such a campaign is making curating a more sustinable practice.


Bill Seaman, Museums, Arts & Cultural Manager at Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service, encouraged us to celebrate the differences between museums: nationals and regionals, international and electic collections, world and community reach. The future of curating is in partnerships, new technologies, peer to peer sharing and networks, public involvement and working even closer with universities. This last point was echoed by Vicky Dawson, Chair of the South Western Federation of Museums & Galleries.



The Brave New World Sessions


This session looked at current projects that are pushing the boundaries of curating.


Chris Michaels, Head of Digital and Publishing at the British Museum, set the scene by describing the changing media and its effect on our relationship with objects and ourselves.


Daniel Martin, Curator of Making and Hannah Fox, Silk Mill Project Director at Derby Museums, outlined the process for each of their projects: define and understand > think and imagine > model and prototype > test and evaluate > make and share. A very engaged, methodical and hopefully sustainable way of working.


Heather Robertson, Curator of Transport and Technology and Shahana Khaliq, Assistant Curator of the Kelvin Hall Project at Glasgow Museums, described their focus on involving the community in their projects. With communities playing an active role in their exhibtions, a form of co-curation, it is certainly interesting to consider in terms of making exhibitions and museums more sustainable as part of the community in which they sit and serve.



Next Generation Series


This last session explored the future of curatorial practice.


Dr Rachel Souhami, Museums Academic & Conultant, and many of you will know from Museums Showoff, set the scene with a clear Manifesto for the Future of Museums:


1.Stop talking about 'the museum sector'. Policy-makers each have different agendas.

2. Ensure a cogent, collective leadership.

3.Engage with emerging museum professional. We are good at engaging with communities but not with our own workforce.

4. Remind emerging professionals to be proactive.


Margaret Maitland, Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean at National Museums Scotland, emphasised once again the importance of partnerships, exchange networks and sharing expertise between museums. Maitland also outlined the significance of working as part of a broader museum team and appreciating others' roles; all key to making the museum and its exhibitions function in a sustainable way.


Judith Robinson, Arts & Cultural Development Manager at Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, shared with us the importance of a museum's collection, landscape, building and exhibitions in unlocking creativity. Robinson extolled the National Trust's Trust New Art scheme and the ACE's Museum Resilience Fund. Schemes and funding such as these help develop networks and open the door to making museums innately more sustainable.



Curators play a significant role in making exhibitions more sustainable. The future curator is knowledgeable and creative, but also adaptable and part of a cross-industry network. This awareness of the changing responsibilities and the necessity for this change is essential to promoting behavioural change that acknowledges the significance of environmental, social and economic sustainability at the very core of the role of the curator, the museum, and its exhibitions.

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