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First crowdsourced curating in Italy at Museo del Tessuto

June 1, 2013

Crowdsourced curating is the act of “outsourcing” the curatorial process to the public. This may take place with works present in a museum’s collection that is presented to the public to be narrowed down for an exhibit based on certain factors, or it may also include a crowdsourcing factor in the development of the artwork to be displayed. The first crowd curation, at Brooklyn museum’s “Click!” held in 2008 was of the latter type, asking residents to submit photos of Brooklyn and website users to vote on them; the most voted were shown in an exhibit. Quite a few years later, while museums in the USA have followed suit, Italy has lagged behind.

The Museo del Tessuto in Prato (Tuscany) is the first Italian museum to hold a crowdsourced curating exhibit, within the larger context of their exhibit “Vintage, l’irresistibile fascino del vissuto” earlier this year. I had the pleasure of developing and running this part of the exhibit, which was created upon commission by the museum to the communications company for which I work, Flod. In this post I summarize how the contest worked and a few critical aspects that future small museums might take into consideration should they attempt a similar process.

vintage-crowdsourced

The #MyVintage photo contest asked users anywhere online to submit up to five photos that answered the statement “what Vintage means to me”. All the submissions were uploaded to the museum website (manually – we might have developed a better, more automatic system) and users were able to use a “vote” button on the images. The number of images for which one could vote was not limited, but IP limited the ability to click it more than once. We purposefully used a voting system that was not dependent on facebook or any form of registration in order to make the process available to anyone on the internet, even if they are not on facebook.

vintage-finalwall

The physical exhibition part worked as follows: all the submitted photos were printed in a standard (10x15cm) size and hung on a wall inside the exhibit, on which there was an informative panel. Despite concerns that some items might be inappropriate or downright offensive, all the photos received were acceptable, and most were well in line with the topic. As online photos received more votes, we reprinted them larger and rehung them on the wall. Photos “grew” after 100 or 500 votes. This turned out to be a rather resource-heavy enterprise as we did not have an automatic way to count the votes (we used a wordpress blog with wp voting plugin, a not highly technical solution. It worked but could have been better!). The process of sending all these photos to a print service, picking them up and hanging them required time, and was difficult for the small museum’s staff. We were not able to update the display as often as we would have liked, and one contributor actually visited the museum and did not find his photo on the wall, which we consider an issue that should not have happened.

Over 500 photos were received, mostly from Italy, many from Prato and environs, but a few from abroad. How did we promote it to get this many submissions to a small local museum’s contest / exhibit? We pushed the contest very heavily on twitter and instagram, engaging people who posted on the topic “vintage” (using that hashtag on instagram) or, on twitter, those interested in photography in general. We also used facebook to engage pages related to vintage topics, many of which were vintage stores. We sent an email to all the major vintage resellers in the world. And of course we posted a lot about the contest on our own facebook page.

Note that I interchange the words contest and exhibit here. The crowdsourced curation aspect was in part disguised as a contest, in that we arranged for prizes that were sufficient to encourage people to submit photos. However, we also used the “see your photo in a museum” aspect to attract established photographers. As an agency, we arranged for sponsors both for the prizes and for printing the photos so that the contest was at zero cost to the museum. We contacted a local printing service who provided the first few hundred prints free and the rest at a discounted rate. Lomography offered prizes of their hip cameras. And the exhibit’s main sponsor, ANGELO vintage store, provided a large, top prize as well. The use of sponsors that are correctly in line with the topic of the exhibit / contest meant more appeal for participants and less cost for the museum.

How were prizes awarded? First we offered monthly prizes based on the number of votes – the most voted photo submitted that month won a lomography camera, and the most voted lomography photo was a second category with the same prize. At the end of the contest period, we had three prizes: the most voted by the public was one prize (a lomography camera). There were two juried prizes: best lomography photo (chosen by that company) and best vintage look, chosen by a committee at the museum along with the prize sponsor, ANGELO vintage.

At the end of the contest period, we held a finissage party and award ceremony. In an ideal situation we’d have been able to let winners know enough in advance and have a budget to bring them to the event, but this was, alas, not possible for various reasons. The party was nonetheless well attended and the grand prize winner sent an acceptance speech that was read out loud.

The printed photos from the exhibit are held in the museum archive, and I would be interested to know from other museums who have done similar things what they did with the contributions. They could possibly be used in another temporary exhibit somewhere in order to best capitalize on the great response received from the public. Unfortunately this theme does not find a permanent home in the Museo del Tessuto because it is closely linked to a single temporary show.

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