Crowd-Sourced Curating at the Brooklyn Museum

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As the arts world continues to discuss and reconsider what it means to participate in the arts, the Brooklyn Museum is testing a new construct of audience engagement with its current exhibit GO: A Community-Curated Open Studio Project.  GO combines two existing tactics: inviting the public into studios of working artists to see where and how artwork is made, and crowdsourcing the selection of that artwork through an open voting process. Unlike ArtPrize, an art competition in Grand Rapids, MI, that awards cash prizes to artists as determined by public vote (juried awards were added in 2012) and cited by the Brooklyn Museum as inspiration for the current exhibit, GO asks participants to nominate artists—rather than specific pieces—whose work they would like to see exhibited at the museum. The catch is that to be eligible to vote, participants must first visit at least five artist studios, which in turn requires that the museum be able to track where people go. The answer is a multiphase project begun this past September and culminating in an exhibit of Brooklyn artists, on display through February 24.

To participate, the museum first asked individuals to register on the GO community project website. Then, over a two-day open studio event involving nearly 1,800 artists in 46 Brooklyn neighborhoods, participants “checked-in” at each studio visited by way of a unique number displayed onsite. By sending that number to the museum either by text message, a free custom iPhone app, or the web, participants documented where they traveled. Those who checked-in at five or more studios received an email with instructions on how to vote, having earned the opportunity to nominate up to three artists. The museum tallied the results, sent two of its curators to review the work of the top ten nominated artists, and selected five to exhibit.

But GO didn’t stop when the voting was done. By asking participants to check-in, the museum was able to analyze how many people went where, when, and what platform they used to check-in, all of which was then shared in a series of posts on both the GO blog and through the Statistics section of the GO website. (Among those findings: Despite multiple mobile-friendly options designed especially for the event, nearly half of the 6,100+ participants chose to simply write down studio numbers throughout the day and check-in via the project website once back home, surprising project coordinators.) The website also provided a forum for participants to discuss (in real time and afterward) what they did and did not like about the process, share stories from their studio visits, learn about nominated artists, receive updates on the creation of the exhibit, and provide reactions to the final exhibit itself.

The exhibit has been criticized by some for not aptly representing the rich artistic quality Brooklyn holds, and is generating commentary on the age-old curatorial question of who should decide what constitutes “good” art. While a worthwhile debate, it seems to belie the larger point of the project: to expose people to the creative process, and ideally, to facilitate a better understanding of it. On that score, GO appears to have succeeded mightily. As project coordinators tagged entries in the Shared Stories section of the website, one of the most frequent themes to emerge was that of discovery. It seems that by opening studio doors, inviting people to participate in the curatorial process, and sharing reactions online, GO fostered meaningful interactions among artists, voters, volunteers, and museum staff, and in the process, created an innovative approach to engage audiences in the arts.