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Crowdsourced Treasures

December 7, 2009 Developments 1 Comment

In truth this post should have been written last Wednesday following Tuesday evening’s Social Media Cafe (smc_mcr) when, along with David Edmundson-Bird from MMU Business School, I presented a ‘What-if’ idea to a group of about 15 keen social media types. It was a conversation with David almost a year ago at an earlier smc_mcr that had kicked off the idea of crowdsourcing the documentation of Mary Greg’s collection in the first place. The presentation was called Crowdsourced Treasures, a social media action to open up access to the city’s art collections.

David has much loftier ambitions than me around increasing public access to the collections in storage and very much played devil’s advocate in the discussion that followed. And there was some genuinely engaged discussion too. Not everybody was convinced that unmediated access to photograph, record or write about objects from the collection would be a good thing. Surely, it was argued, the role of the gallery was to provide the authoritative context to the objects, providing a way-in for the uncertain viewer. The hierarchies and taxonomies developed over the last century or more have an important place and help provide threads of meaning and connection between disparate objects, documentation without these wouldn’t really be documentation. Or, would it?

Ben’s photographs helped bolster the proposition enormously, here was a purely visual record that elevated the object to a different aesthetic realm. Does it matter that you don’t realise that what you are looking at is a thimble if you are entranced by the sheer quality of surface or by its simple form? Is it always necessary to know everything about the object, or can you take from it what you want or need? There was some agreement that any social documentation produced would be supplementary to the ‘official’ documentation, it couldn’t replace it.

The idea of producing an open invitation to the stores to take part in a crowdsourced action did hold some appeal and there were a number of people in the audience who would be keen to take part if it did happen. Perhaps the single most interesting idea came up in discussion after the presentation. Natalie Ireland, Manchester Science Festival Director at MOSI, suggested that perhaps the best way to test the idea would be to hold an smc_mcr in the stores themselves, bring the social media advocates right into the collection as a piece of action research. This seems like a real way forward and we will plan how we might make it happen early in 2010.


Social Media Cafe Manchester smc_mcr
David Edmundson-Bird @groovergenerator
Natalie Ireland

Sarah-Clare Conlon, author of the Words & Fixtures blog, has posted about the proposed social media action too, Rumble in the Jumble. Ignore the apparent initial cynicism, the collection worked its magic on Sarah-Clare too.

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  1. Hazel Jones says:

    Sounds like a great discusion.
    I agree that it is right and proper to have official and “other” documentation.
    I often look around museums for other things than pure information.
    Shapes, textures, tales, mysteries and more.
    the history is only one aspect..important, but not always the most interesting and useful to artists/craftspeople in particular.
    Stamped marks, scratches, dents…

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