The Public Work of Care: Emerging Art Curatorial Community Engagement Practices
Wittman, Aletheia Jane
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Public programming, community outreach, visitor studies and education departments have been central to discussions in the art museum field about strategies for community engagement. However, little documentation is available of the ways in which art curators today see their practice as actively participating in and even generating creative strategies to propel museums toward new levels of inclusion. The goal of this research has been to identify and describe emerging trends in practice among art curators who work to expand community access to art museums. Curators were selected for this study based on their employment at art institutions with commitment to 1) community engagement and/or 2) social justice as demonstrated through their online identity. At selected institutions, the BMW Guggenheim Lab, The Bronx Museum of Arts, The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Oakland Museum of California, curators were asked to participate in on-site semi-structured interviews. Key words and concepts were cross-referenced between all interviews to find similar themes in order to describe the range of emerging practices that can be found in a diverse set of exemplary art institutions. Findings indicate that curators interviewed for this study have not abandoned more traditional curatorial roles of organizing art exhibitions and interpreting collections through specialized skill and expertise, but instead added to them. Additional roles correspond with expanding the scope of exhibitions and programs in order to engage communities considered non-traditional art museum audiences. Curator participants respond to issues that shape communities and consider how art museum spaces can be programmed and changed in order to promote comfort, familiarity and elevate community expertise and creativity. All curators in this study are shifting the paradigm of curator/intellectual instructing public conversation to diverse communities guiding curatorial work. Art curator participant responses suggest that traditional curatorial roles can be perceived and practiced as complimentary to community engagement rather than contradictory. This research provides art curators with an introduction to exemplary and diverse cases of emerging curatorial community engagement and the ways in which these practices can be more sustainable in the field. It also recommends strategies with which art institutions can better support curators to be integrated into community engagement goals within their institutions and the field.
- Museology