No Exhibitions, No Visitors, No Money: The Effect on the Curator’s Role
Micha Leeflang, Curator of Medieval Art, Museum Catharijneconvent
Over the past twelve years, during my tenure as Curator of Medieval Art at Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht (the Netherlands), my job description has changed dramatically. Having started out as a classical museum curator, mainly concerning myself with the institution’s own collections and research on it, my role has mutated into that of an exhibition maker, including all the more recent additions such as presenting introductory films/documentaries and vlogs, hosting press receptions, and giving lectures to different types of publics.
All this means that there is no longer any time to produce a collection catalogue or a book highlighting our greatest treasures. As a museum, we are assessed in the Netherlands by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science on the basis of visitor numbers. That is what determines the funding we receive. In other words: no visitors, no money. Exhibitions are our “main selling point”: visitors come to see the exhibitions, and not – in the case of Museum Catharijneconvent in any case – to see the permanent exhibition or to purchase a book about the collection. So, the management’s decision to focus the staff’s efforts entirely on exhibitions makes perfect sense.
Another consequence of this shift is that staff working in different departments of the museum now play a much greater role than before in organizing exhibitions. While once the curator would take sole responsibility for almost everything from concept development to implementation, today the staff of the marketing and education departments are also involved in matters of content, under the watchful eye of the project leader, who also has a say in the exhibition’s content. Each staff member has a different area of expertise that informs his or her vision of what the public wants. In consequence, each exhibition is developed by a project group. With what result? I would like to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this construction with you.
About Micha Leeflang
Micha Leeflang (b. 1975) studied technical art history at the University of Groningen, where she obtained her PhD in 2007 for a dissertation entitled Uytnemende Schilder van Antwerpen with the subtitle Joos van Cleve: Atelier, Productie en Werkmethoden. She worked at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam as Curatorial Researcher from 2005 to 2007. She then moved to Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, where she was responsible for exhibitions including Surviving the Iconoclasm, Medieval Sculpture (2012–2013), The Secret of the Middle Ages in Gold Thread and Silk (2015), Holy Scripture: Tanakh, Bible, Koran (2016) and Magical Miniatures (2018).
Micha Leeflang has been a member of CODART since 2007.