Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Ask a Curator Day – behind what the Powerhouse is doing

August 27th, 2010 by Seb Chan

The InternationalAsk A Curator Day happens on September 1st this year and the Powerhouse is excited to be taking part even though we’ll be taking questions through our Facebook page rather than Twitter.

We’re hoping that by using Facebook we’ll be able to answer more detailed questions and potentially reach a wider audience.

Unlike our friends in natural history museums the Powerhouse doesn’t have publicly accessible Q&A facilities like Museum Victoria’s Discovery Centre, even though we do have a Research Library that does take private bookings. Also, unlike the Art Gallery of NSW, we don’t have public ‘appraisal’ days. Despite this, you wouldn’t believe the volume of emails we get that start with “I’ve been cleaning out the attic and found . . . can you tell me more about it?”.

This is the chance to freely ask those questions and all those ‘behind the scenes’ things you always wanted to know.

Senior online producer Renae Mason and curator Erika Dicker (who also edits the Museum’s Object of the Week blog) are behind this year’s effort and I spoke to Renae about the event –

F&N: How have you prepared curators for the day?

I’m hoping our fans already find the museum to be a special place that is audience-focused and accessible. There are a range of things that we do within the physical confines of the museum, such as curator-led ‘behind the scenes’ tours of our collection and talks with Q&A sessions, that align us with these goals. ‘Ask A Curator Day’ is, in my mind, a natural extension of these activities, it’s just taking place online instead.

So when Erika approached me with the idea to participate in ‘Ask A Curator Day’ we had a quick brainstorm about which online channel would be best to use and how we could prepare our curators for the day.

I chose Facebook, because it’s our most active ‘fan’ space to date and I know how addicted Australians are to Facebook, which was another good reason to further invest in the platform.

We then invited our 28 curators to an interactive session on social media in the museum, finishing up with the option to stick around and receive practical help with getting started on Facebook – for those who didn’t already have work-related accounts.

The response was encouraging.

Approximately half of our curators were able to make it along to the session and most of them went through the sign up process on Facebook and learned a lot more about those critical ‘privacy settings’. Those who couldn’t make it on the day requested we repeat the workshop again and we happily obliged.

After those two sessions, we now have 12 of those 28 curators signed up to Facebook with dedicated work accounts that clearly flag their roles and areas of expertise in their bios (in keeping with the Museum’s social media policy). They are now ready to volunteer their time to ‘Ask A Curator Day’ and I reckon that number may even increase a little more by next Wednesday.

F&N: What do you hope to gain from it?

Ask A Curator Day has really come along at a perfect time for us. By targeting participation directly at curators, the event has helped me to demonstrate the relevance of social media tools in their daily working lives.

People who work in the digital areas of museums are always going to be early adopters of technology and experiment with new tools as they become available. But as platforms like Facebook and Twitter have matured, attracting a wider range of audiences and uses, our internal challenge is around how to ‘mainstream’ social media activity across the entire organisation.

A sustainable, healthy social media presence should represent the diversity of people who work here and their contribution to the museum – and not just through the ‘official’ channels of the Museum’s blogs and website.

Through the workshops, we’ve already increased understanding of social media, encouraged more productive cross-departmental work and introduced a good number of curators to Facebook, including the Principal Curators. All fine ‘wins’.

Now to make it ‘epic’!

Think up some great questions and then, come September 1 . . . ask them!

Find out about all the other Australian institutions participating.

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