Project 12

Here’s an idea that I was trying to decoct into a proposal but I just didn’t quite get there, so I’ll send it anyway in case it’s useful.

In the Critical Response project category, you asked “How does a critic assert authority at a time when the audience says it distrusts experts?” I am not sure that that they do distrust experts as much as all that. Last year I reported on the reopening of the Oakland Museum, one of the few I’ve come across that does a good job of balancing community input with curatorial integrity. They shut down for nearly two years to refurbish and reconfigure the museum. During this time, they did a huge amount of what you might call crowdsourcing–they canvassed people endlessly, with surveys, community committees, advisory councils, random man-on-the-street surveys, etc. (over 3,000 people and more than two dozen groups) and one of the surprising things they learned was that their visitors wanted wall texts written by experts–they just wanted them to be well-written and interesting. The visitors also wanted to know where the writers were coming from, so that led to a kind of two-tier wall text system, with some panels conveying received information and others being more personal commentary, written and signed by different curators and experts. Drawing on their thousands of surveys, the curators also figured out endless ways to get visitors to interact with and participate in the exhibits–making drawings on a computer screen in the art galleries, noting their own solutions to the global economic crisis in the Depression exhibition, etc. I was wondering if there’s some way to translate their findings into journalism. (Plenty of news websites are doing a piece of this already, like all those NYT pleas to please send us your photos of this that or the other thing.)

Anyway, just a thought. I didn’t know exactly what to do with it, but I did not want it to go to waste.