November 26, 2009

Not Curating For The Future

I had expected today to blog about the future of curating because I attended the Renaissance North West Conference "Curating for the Future",
which should have given me some interesting things to get my teeth into. However, it turned out that the conference had very little to do with what I think of when I use the word "curate". Indeed, on reflection, I don't think I heard the word used. Come to think of it, artists werent mentioned either. It turned out that curating in the context of the conference meant "our sector strives for organisational and environmental sustainability to ensure we continue to exist, develop and provide relevant and inspirational services to the public we were."

The conference opened with a speech from the Culture Minister - delivered by the top civil servant from the Dept. of Culture because she had been required to do something more important in London. This "key note" speech padded with a dirge of statistics essentially told the delegates that government culture policy is a great success and its structure of Renaissance in the Regions museum hubs is a great success. But of course, as usual, culture still has to argue for the value of culture for it to survive, to gather evidence of its effectiveness; this circles back in the argument to prioritise visitor numbers and quantitative indicators. This paragraph is boring me - think what 30 minutes of this was like.

The panel discussion started with quite an interesting question: what will the museum sector look like in 10 years time and what should it look like in 2020; but debate was structured with sub-questions which were so uninteresting that I can't be bothered to type them out. The 'answers' were bogged down in how museums should survive the coming economic crisis storm. There was a feeling that in the face of financial threat, museums were more helpless because their crisis of purpose - the result of the 'success' of government cultural policy, I would argue. Surprisingly, Maurice Davis of the Museums Association proposed that the culture of standardisation that has been promoted for the last ten years and homogenised so much should now be relaxed. Diane Lees of the Imperial War Museum also suggested that the desparation of museums to be liked by everyone also has pernicious effects.

Maurice Davis said the most controversial thing (to the room) when he said that much as the public sector had been rolled back in the privatisations of the 80s-90s, maybe the idea that UK public museums collecting was no longer relevant to the 21st Century and "this should be left to Russian billionaires". Although this ellicited a sharp intake of breath in the room, the chasm between this abdication of curatorial vision and the only other imperatives being offered in this forum - amounting to "if we're lucky we'll survive" decorated with fashionable green concern - seemed to only to magnify the vacuum at the 'debate'.

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