The concept of the “curator has many meanings, and these meanings have changed over time and across generations. By definition, a curator can be someone who looks after a museum, library, gallery or similar; a person who selects content for a presentation; or even, in a legal sense, someone who is the guardian of a person who is unable to look after themselves, particularly in regard to property and belongings. A common theme emerges: a curator is a custodian or keeper who has some kind of responsibility over things, by virtue of a specialist skill or knowledge, and uses this position to make appropriate decisions and selections for the benefit of others.
Traditionally, the most common view of the curator was that of a keeper of a cultural heritage institution such as a gallery or museum. The curator in this sense is a specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. Their role is to determine which objects should be acquired or sold; which have greater value and which have less; which are significant and which are not; and, importantly, how they are assigned and classified. The kind of work they do is time-consuming, specialist and very valuable.
More recently, however, new kinds of curators are emerging in the information-rich and time-poor internet age. Curation in the digital realm generally involves the selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of digital assets, and has become a prominent function within businesses today.
Given the vast amount of content generated every day, however, it’s not surprising that the term ‘curate’ is fast becoming the interactive world’s new buzz verb, and new uses for it are springing up all over the place. Bloggers and vloggers often describe themselves as curators, as they sift through diverse pieces of content – products, ideas, approaches – and bring them together to create a distinctive piece of writing or video for the appreciation of their audience.
Online publishers employ content managers to curate past content and use it to bring more depth and context to current articles. This curation involves grouping related articles, images and video content in a kind of exhibition around news stories. More broadly, curation has also been applied to interaction with social media including compiling digital images, web links and movie files.
So the term ‘curator’ has really taken on its own meaning today, and the context in which it is applied very much governs people’s expectation of what a curator does. This context includes our personal experiences. (My dad thought a curator was someone who maintains a sporting pitch – you can see where his interests lie!)
The challenge for us at Small Things Home is that our clients see us through the context of the end benefit we provide – peace of mind, and sorting out a challenge that they aren’t especially good at, often in a time of strong emotion. And while they love the fact that we can provide this, I’m pretty sure they’re not thinking, “now, what I really need is a curator” when they engage us.
But pause for a moment and consider the work we do to provide this valuable end-benefit to our clients. We make plans for peoples’ loved ones and their belongings when their circumstances change. We sort out what people have, what should be done with it, and how to do it, so that they don’t have to bear the responsibility in what can be an emotional and stressful time. We have a very specialised skillset that ranges from subject knowledge (design, art history, antiques), through to sorting and classification techniques, to human elements like empathy, professionalism and respect.
What is this, if not curation?
We are very proud to call ourselves curators, because, considering all the contexts described above, curation is exactly what we do – in challenging circumstances, when our clients find it difficult to know where to begin and need us most. We’re personal curators. Very good ones, and we love what we do.