Curator Reflections: Ben Fast

Ben, who curated for us at the end of November, has very kindly written us a blog post reflecting on his week.  One of the things I enjoy about the account is how different weeks can be and the new ideas curators bring to their time at the helm –  Ben put lots of thought into his curation and introduced prize draws (a WtH first!) and survey results.  A big thank you to him and all the contributors who are making this first year so stimulating and varied.

I’m two days removed from my week as curator of We the Humanities (Nov. 24-30) and sitting at my computer I keep having urges to check my Twitter updates!  It was an intense week and I think I developed an addiction…

Being the curator of We the Humanities was a lot of fun first and foremost.  The opportunity to spend a week talking about whatever you want to talk about in front of about 2,000 people doesn’t come around too often.  Talking for a week in front of that many people and doing it without getting boring or irrelevant is also a challenge, one I really wanted to succeed at as I was the first Canadian curator and, I felt, perhaps one of the lesser educated or experienced curators.  I’m not researching a PhD, I have no recognition to my name because of what I’ve done…would people even care about what I had to say?

I launched myself headfirst into this project well in advance of my week.  I was originally supposed to curate in October but had to re-schedule due to a field school in the UK at the same time.  Because I was talking less about what I was researching or doing in my job and more about my interests in museums and, I felt, promoting Canadian museums to the world, I set about learning more about my chosen topic.  I created a very informal 25 question survey for Canadian museum workers and put it out across my social media channels and the BC Museums Association list-serve.  I had 11 responses in one week, and the results were great to have on hand for my final curation day.  In this sense I felt I had some original material to show off, and something new for my own industry connections.

I decided to create a schedule for my week at We the Humanities.  I did this both to keep me on track in my research, but also to focus the discussion I hoped to lead.  I am interested in many aspects of museum work, so having a set schedule of topics would help guide people to the account and allow for a deeper level of sharing of ideas.  In hindsight, I would say this was a good idea as it did keep me on track, but I’m not sure it benefited or even impacted other users that much.  I also found myself more likely to stray off topic later in the week as I learned the ropes of curating such a broad Twitter community.

As someone from the West Coast of Canada, I knew I would run into some downtime as many followers came from the UK/Europe or Australia.  Time differences would be my enemy – they are when others curate and I miss all the discussion – and I didn’t want to go unnoticed!  I used Hootsuite to schedule some tweets, mainly links to museum-related articles or to my schedule post, so those in other time zones would have a consistent reminder of what was going on.  This turned out to be a great success as I would wake up to dozens of notifications and an instant discussion thread for my day.  I would recommend future curators explore this activity as it helps make the account a 24/7 operation, but be warned that it does take some time to schedule tweets each day.  I most likely went a bit overboard with this…

A final new addition to We the Humanities was a series of draw prizes.  I had sent emails out to many larger Canadian museums with the hopes of them donating a small prize that they could mail internationally to the winners.  The Museum of Vancouver, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and The Rooms responded to my request and each provided a prize.  Thank you to all three museums for supporting me as curator and supporting the overall promotion of the humanities.  It was a personal highlight to be able to promote these organizations and share their stories.  I held a 24-hour draw window with short prompt and winners were chosen on Days 3-5.  There were fewer responses than I would have hoped for (17 in total over the three draws) but I still think it was a fun element of my week.

All in all, my week as curator of We the Humanities was a great opportunity to explore museums, make networks with likeminded people, and foster discussion about the humanities in general.  I likely spent too much time on the account – my homework will suffer this week because of it – but it is something I am happy to put on my resumé.  I would recommend other people interested in the humanities to broaden their horizons and give it a try, the community is highly supportive and there are more people interested in what you do than you would imagine!

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