What is a 21st Century Curator?

By: Jaime Clifton, Research Curator

When museums first shifted their focus to visitor experience in the 1980s and 1990s, they had to develop a new approach to audience engagement. They needed to find new ways to share the voices and experiences of many different people while decreasing their authoritarian presence. They essentially needed to learn to listen. While many have made big strides over the last couple of decades, this issue is still front and centre. Perhaps they can’t break free from their authoritarian past because they are bound by their institutional walls.

In 2013, an independent curatorial collective led a community-based art experiment called Wreck City: An Epilogue for 809. They occupied 9 houses, 2 garages, and a greenhouse destined for demolition in the Sunnyside Calgary neighbourhood. Under the thematic guidance of curators, artists and architects were invited to transform these homes using whatever materials they could find into living artworks—and they didn’t have to worry about clean-up or restoration. Many participants felt this project opened doors for people to express themselves in new ways. It took the comfort and familiarity of the neighbourhood and enabled them to “recontextualize the everyday”. They brought art into the real world while reflecting on their historic neighbourhood block before it was wiped clean. This broke down barriers for visitors and lessened any anxiety or discomfort some may feel when entering traditional gallery spaces. They brought curatorial practice into the home and democratized it. This seems to be a most effective way to engage people.

To learn more, visit the official Wreck City website.

Check out the short documentary below, by Caitlind r.c. Brown.

WRECK CITY: a mini-doc (100 artists + 9-houses, pre-demolition) from Caitlind r.c. Brown on Vimeo.


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