Susan Lambert's picture

We, the 10 Most Wanted team – that’s Marcus, Phil and I, attended a Digital R&D event at Nesta last week.  It involved all the so-called nine first generation projects announced in February and also the nine second generation projects announced earlier this month. Each project was represented by upwards of three people so there was quite a crowd and a wonderful variety of arts represented: theatre, painting, opera, dance, storytelling, music, sculpture, and curation. It was a great opportunity to meet people engaged on parallel projects. From those I talked to hot topics are exploration of augmented reality and the mobile app to transform delivery of and engagement with different art forms.

Our project, with its win-win aim of engaging the public with collections as culture detectives to find information about the objects making up the collections, seems on the surface one of the more traditional. I was struck however by how different our means of delivery appears to be compared with a project being led by the other museum featured in the projects, the much larger Imperial War Museum.

The IWM project, in partnership with Historypin and the University of Edinburgh, is to encourage the public to contribute to the curation of its First World War paintings collection by adding contextual information and emotional responses to the paintings, and participating in on-line discussion. Its aims are not therefore dissimilar to those of 10 Most Wanted although our focus is on hard verifiable facts (rather than contextual information and feelings). But what surprised me was that it is recruiting staff specifically to run the project rather than making it an opportunity to engage existing curators in new practices, as we are. They say that they have learnt the hard way – that is by experience and that such a strategy is more likely to lead to success.

I can understand why.  We want our project to be transferable to a wide range of collection types and to that end have been asking curators in relevant fields to sit on its Advisory Group. It is vital that curators in different areas help us to get it right for them. Happily we’ve had more than enough acceptances from experts in the key subject areas but others have declined on the grounds of being short staffed and over-stretched.  Museums are suffering cuts and are not keen to take on additional outside commitments.  The great thing about our project is, though, that it looks at new, labour-saving ways of delivering key aspects of curatorial work that should give curators more not less time.  We are delighted to be funded to do this work which we hope will transform the curator’s workload while leading to greater depth in documentation and a different type of engagement by the public with collections.