When Stewart Lee, a stand-up, was asked to ‘curate’ a comedy show, he wasn’t keen - on the word: “It sounds like somebody stirring turds in a toilet bowl with a stick,” was his trenchant take on curation.
“If something is being curated it already seems fixed and decayed,” he said, and those who spend their lives working knee-deep in content, sorting out other people’s mess, will know the feeling.
He was also scathing, in the same FT piece, about being asked to provide content – aka jokes – for mobile phones.
“My material is written to be performed as part of a whole in particular sorts of places, and I have given a great deal of thought to how the acceptability and impact of ideas is affected by pacing, context, and their position as part of a whole 70 minute set. I didn't want it being chopped up, miniaturised, de-contextualised and inflicted passively on old ladies on the top decks of buses by shouting teenagers.”
This is a great, if pseudish, point, but it’s also where a good content curator/strategist comes in.
The curator in a gallery might choose to figuratively ‘chop up’ her exhibits - to demonstrate a particular technique, reveal an earlier draft, or tease out hidden meaning. They might ‘decontextualize’ to reveal surprising new associations and wider contexts, when they bring an exhibition together. The way they classify and arrange, describe and interpret, where and how they place their artworks, the interactivity they provide for lay and younger audiences , can stimulate a deeper understanding and enjoyment.
As Canadian curator Melanie O’Brian says: As editors of ideas, curators bring forward art and cultural practices to make the ideas available to audiences, not only through exhibitions, but also through publications, talks...website, forums, and other events. The curator is arguably the filter through which the work becomes known."
Sounds like a content strategist’s role to me. She also notes the "inexhaustive list of the relationships and responsibilities that curators have with artists, audiences, institutions, funders, collectors, dealers, writers, press, publishers, technicians, photographers, editors, and other curators." Content strategists operate at the centre of a similarly tangled web.
Lee is wrong. Rather than dealing with the fixed and decayed, curation does the opposite. It breathes new life into the objects in its care, attracts new audiences, finds new meaning, constantly revising and reforming in response to events, conversations and collaboration with all its stakeholders.
At least he pays his taxes.