Thanks to Tom Foremski and Oliver Starr for inviting me to share my thoughts on curation at last night’s salon, and to the group for a lively discussion. This article is an expansion on the bullet points in my remarks. There is a prior post- What is Curation?- that attempts to professionalize and put some limits around the use of the word, which may be needed- lest I seriously think that I’m curating my garage next time I clean it out.- CMM
Does all curation have a viewpoint? “The Curator Bias”
Yes, all curation has opinion and intention- this can be conscious or unconscious. When a professional curator sets about to create an event, an exhibit or a collection, they are also bringing about a state change or highlighting a new way of seeing something for the viewer. This intent may be subtly driven by what the curator’s experiences and exposure, and the worldview they have adopted or, ideally, be formed from a more aware and examined consideration of their purpose in framing this event or collection in the way they have chosen.
Two different curators can create vastly different views on a topic by how they frame it. Take, for example, conferences on sustainability: northern California’s Harmony Festival has dozens of speakers address sustainability in a very different way than Sustainable Brands does- similar topics, some overlap in content, but a very different underlying political and economic philosophy shapes each experience.
In any curation, what is omitted is as if not more important than what is included. I’ll use a personal, easily accessible example. On a recent trip to New Mexico, we took two sets of pictures. One showing the incredible beauty of the land and the richness of its history, and the other focusing on the shameful third world poverty (aside: NM is the 5th poorest state in the US- 156 of 234 US census places live on less than $15K per capita per year, 60 of those are under $10K per year. Outdoor plumbing, vast stretches of dilapidated homes, limited fresh food.) The lens a curator chooses to apply directs the viewers seeing, like any artist- creating pause, creating a new way of seeing.
How is curation different than a mere filter or editorial slant?
This is splitting hairs at some level. Editorial slant, like curation, is a branding of a sort, right? Fox and News Hour are both selecting the stories and the angle they want to show, and the material that supports that position.
Yet, the word curation has a higher bar: it implies a sense of care over the longterm, of preserving and assembling a special group of items or content or speakers. Merely by their selection and setting aside, by their juxtaposition to each other in a complementary set, the curator creates a group of reference objects. (Read a prior post on what is curation) A great digital curator would never list all the articles on the same topic- they would cherry pick the best to create ease for the reader, to cut through the jungle of information for the reader.
What’s different in Live versus Digital curation?
With live events, versus the self guided tour of digital media, we have at least 2 additional dimensions to work with. The first is time – the linear progression of narrative or story built into the event, and the second is energetics- the physical energy of people who are in the room, co-creating the experience.
The time element allows the curator to guide the visitor or attendee through a linear, progressive experience, where ideas build on the other, to create a story. When done with the arc of the experience in mind, this can be masterful, like being in a symphony with multiple movements.
The energetic dimension, where the participants or viewers are having a shared experience, means the program itself is influenced by the physical energy of the collective, their focused attention, the interplay of body and biorhythms with the content. There is an unpredictable element in how they relate to each other, and the chemical reaction that produces. As a curator of live events, you also learn to pay attention to the neuroscience of attention, optimal learning, and how to create receptive states of mind.
The interplay between Live Events and their Digital Artifacts
One of the oddest things for the live curator today is the simultaneous planning for the recording of what happened for later use- where the event itself lives on, out of context, and the content may be adjusted to create a better stand alone digital artifact. Not only the original content, but the outtakes, surround sound and post event interaction with the content become the subject of additional media, a documentary report card on what happened and why it mattered. In a way, people’s reactions to the event, are captured and added to the collection- people’s reactions become part of the curation also. As the very presence of the camera changes a thing (the phenomenon known as playing to the cameras, rather than the live audience), planning for the long tail, the afterlife change the thing itself. This may be creating community around content, or it may be the curator’s own self justification, or a way to document the impact to insure repeat funding.
Expansion of forums for curation- digital and otherwise
Forums for live and digital creation are expanding. Whether its Pearltrees for hand curation, or social media curation assemblage from Storify, or peer media aggregation in digest form (they call it a social magazine) like Flipboard, digital forums and tools for creating collections are multiplying, each with their own perspective and approach.
And so are offline salons and events for sharing ideas. There are so many reasons for this- not the least of which because its fun to learn and grow, and because done right it can be profitable, and because idea sharing is one of the most vital things we can do to shift the planet. Groups of passionate self directed researchers and learners, digging in to make sense of the world for fun and profit- whether online or offline- simply make the world a better place to be.