CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Panel Discussions

Please note that video recordings of all three panel discussions are now available.

Session 1: The Role of Knowledge in the Museum

Many respondents of the research project CODART commissioned, listed research as one of the curator’s primary core tasks. However, they also noted that in practice there is often too little time and money to conduct that research, and too little understanding/appreciation of its importance. What is the panelists’ experience in this connection? Do they agree that conducting research on the collection is one of the curator’s key responsibilities? Or could (some of) that work perhaps be outsourced? How important is it that a curator is a specialist? What kind of knowledge do today’s museums and curators need? And how about the future? Traditionally, museums have been bastions of scientific, historical, or art-historical knowledge. Have they allowed enough space for other forms of knowledge, for emotions, for other kinds of relationships to objects? And do curators have a role to play in these other areas?

How are training courses responding to these changes? What should we be teaching the curators of the future? What knowledge and skills will they need? The research findings revealed that training courses are not always well attuned to the demands of the curator’s role. Does that mean the courses should bridge that gap, or can curators learn the necessary skills on the job? The panelists will share their experiences and perspectives in this area and discuss the diverse forms of knowledge that the museum – and the curator – of the future will need.

Session 2: Sharing Responsibilities

The research findings clearly revealed how the curator’s profession has changed along with the changing function of museums over the past few decades. The public has become a more influential factor. This is reflected not only in the heightened focus on fundraising, but also in the growing time and resources dedicated to matters such as education and marketing. The findings also show that curators engage more than in the past with the public – and in different ways. They can no longer act without consultation, as might have been the case in the past. Today’s curators collaborate with the museum’s other departments, as well as with people and organizations in the outside world. Some respondents called the curator in today’s world the linchpin of the museum’s activities, while others opted for the term “jack-of-all-trades”. It is increasingly common for curators to create exhibitions and other activities together with external partners and to collaborate closely with other departments within the museum.

A large proportion of respondents welcomed these developments, seeing them as necessary and important, but there were also concerns, in particular, that these new responsibilities put pressure on the time and headspace to conduct art-historical research. While the findings demonstrated a considerable expansion in the curator’s list of tasks, they also appeared to show that, at many institutions, there has been no corresponding increase in the number of curatorial positions. Several respondents noted that the wide range of tasks has both positive and negative sides to it: it is both multi-faceted and very demanding. All those involved want to continue to appeal to the public by telling relevant and compelling stories about art and history, but how to balance all the different responsibilities so as to do so successfully? The panelists will share their different experiences and the lessons learned from working with colleagues inside the museum as well as with external partners.

Session 3: The Object and Other Stories

What is the role of the artworks and other objects in the museum? What are the constraints on this role? What stories should you tell? From what perspective? Who is to decide? What does the public expect from a museum? The public plays a more prominent role than ever in museums. But how is that public made up? And how can you ensure, as a museum, that you are accessible to everyone? In the traditional way of exhibiting or displaying the collection, the public experiences and interprets the museum collection through the story told by the curator. Integrating new, different voices adds fresh ways of looking and insights and presents a wider view of the collection and history. Respondents said that this changes the relationship between story and object. Several raised the question of which comes first: the story or the object? People approach this in very different ways. Is the focus on contemporary social issues diminishing the interest in the artworks and other objects? And will this eventually impoverish the overall knowledge of the collection, or will collections actually be enriched by encouraging new perspectives? Another question: will the changing relationship between the public, the museum, and the objects generate a desire for different kinds of knowledge about the objects in the museum? The panelists will discuss their experiences in this area and reflect on the opportunities and challenges facing the profession.