Combatant curator

March 18, 2019

 


I do not know any more to whom should I thank you for this amazing caricature of a frog squeezing the throat of a stork while the latter tries to swallow it up. I have found it maybe twenty years ago somewhere on the Internet and I still see it reinterpreted and used by many. It became our collective social memory.My curatorial career was not dramatic. As usually, one enters the museum „profession" knowing nothing about the job. Those without training are preferred by the curatorial establishment. None of them has received any formal training for the specific scientific and yet communicational institution such as a museum. Their insecurity is then transferred to the younger colleagues who will perpetuate this resistance to improvements by obligatory professional education. Most of the curators have therefore learned their "very important" job in practice, by the mistakes or by the lucky presence of someone experienced, old enough, generous and talented enough.

 

As a consequence, two things happened in the sector, almost spontaneously as a reaction. The first is unprecedented multiplication of instances of informal education and exchange of experiences. The other one was done on the level of verbalising: "we know all we need to do", and they have learned to express it well. Why was the latter? Lip service, using buzz words is an instinctive cover. It is the natural outcome of a glaring need unsatisfied by proper professional action, so the deficiency is being covered by proper verbalisation. Only the solid, complimentary professional education for the job itself, can provide an in-depth understanding of the profession's mission.

 

All this had to be explained to provide context for those rare, professionally educated or just hard working and talented curators who lead in innovation and devotion. They are also brave and creative enough to exercise their expertise, very often by courageous action. Sometimes it is by improving the functionality of the institutional working process or by advancing their societal performance. Doing so, they often find themselves often squeezed between the internal resistance and outer resentment, usually by the reticent colleagues or by the political and corporative establishment. That history of our emerging profession is only partly recorded but demonstrates its importance even when it is prevented from exercising it. In many countries, especially those developing or transitional, the directors are, paradoxically, the watchdogs who are placed there to sabotage the change, tacitly forged within the system. The best book on rebellious curators was this one: Dubin, Steven, C. Displays of Power: Memory and Amnesia in the American Museum. NYU Press, 1999.​

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Some rights reserved. European Heritage Association, 2016.