Curator as an expert and mediator in the paradigm of the new museum
Full title: Curator as an expert and mediator in the paradigm of the new museum: a comparative case study of the Baltic and Finnish national museums
Tartu : University of Tartu Press, 2021
Dissertationes ethnologiae Universitatis Tartuensis ; 13
Softcover new book
Doctoral theses defended at the University of Tartu, summary in Estonian
At the heart of the PhD dissertation is a curator – a museum professional, who has historically performed all the main functions of a museum: preservation, research and communication. Like the museum as a whole, the curatorial profession has undergone changes in recent decades – both specialization and the addition of new tasks have taken place. The paradigm shift began in Western countries in the late 1980s with the idea of a new museology. It called for a reduction in museums' conservatism and elitism, an emphasis on open communication with society, and the different needs of the public. Unlike the classical museum, the new museum does not focus on museum collections, but on the community for which the museum operates. The dissertation deals with the impact of the adoption of the new museum paradigm on the position of curator on the example of the national museums of the Baltic states and Finland. The central source of the ethnographic research are interviews conducted with museum staff in 2016–2019. In particular, it has been studied how the emphasis on the field of communication has influenced the tasks and role perceptions of curators and what conclusions can be drawn from this in shaping museum policy. The topic is investigated through the curator's three areas of responsibility: 1) as keeper of the collections, 2) as researcher, and 3) as mediator of the museum's substantive topics to society. Attractive exhibitions and services are highlighted in the new museum. Today, the ideals of a socially sensitive and communicative museum are largely intertwined with following the logic of a market economy, and with the need to earn one's own revenue. Therefore, the share of communication (incl. marketing and sales activities) in the organizational structure has been expanded. As a result of this shift, the role of curators in shaping exhibition and research topics decreases and the decision-making power of communication specialists increases. The use of museum collections in both exhibitions and research has decreased, although collections are given more importance in terms of open communication. Yet, the workload of curators in filling in online databases and communicating with visitors is increasing. As a result of the changes, the identity of the curator as a substantive expert has become uncertain, and work motivation has decreased. The dissertation offers policy makers a view on how to unlock the potential of curators as experts and mediators of knowledge.