What is a 21st Century Curator?

By: Jaime Clifton, Research Curator

I’ve referenced storytelling in previous posts because it is central to museum curatorial practice. As an imperative approach to exhibit label writing (the museum professional’s favourite task), these narratives must capture the attention of a wide audience. One of my favourite museum books, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach, explores just that. Author, Beverly Serrell, suggests that stories must have clear subjects (characters) and actions to give purpose and meaning. Such an approach offers a more relatable context for audiences as it leaves room for them to situate or envision themselves within the context of the story. Serrell also suggests that stories should evoke myth, as these types of origin narratives give meaning and purpose to life. They transcend time and space. Storytelling is incredibly important in 21st century curatorial practice—whether in museums, online, or in literature—since we’re always striving to engage and connect.

One masterful storyteller of the 20th century is the one and only Bob Ross from The Joy of Painting. His lesser known show, Beauty is Everywhere, is now available on Netflix which is why it re-entered my consciousness. You may remember Bob as the superhuman painter whose gentle and inspiring persona mesmerized audiences for over 11 years. Part of what made his show so compelling is that he took you on an artistic journey through layers of Phthalo Green and Van Dyke Brown. He always reinforced his audience as a key player in the process while imagining stories set within the universe of his canvas.

Mystic Mountain, by Bob Ross, Joy Of Painting Episode 1 Season 20, via YouTube