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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Write Your Own Wall Text

Now here’s an interesting idea. The short text writer at the Tate Britain (the person who writes those annoying little wall texts that get more eye time from visitors than the works they describe) goes out on maternity leave. The museum has a hard time finding a replacement. (Interested in her position? Here’s the job description.) So instead of having short text writing grind to a halt (“The public needs wall texts, damn it!”), they invite all comers to take a shot at filling the position.

Go ahead. Give it a try. The former staffer didn’t complete the last 43 works in her assignment, so the museum would like you to start with those. But they will take submissions for any piece in their collection, if you’re inspired by something else. They’re actually going to use the best ones submitted by September 20.

In The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki shows that better answers often arise from the collective effort of a group than from the work of an intelligent individual. (Brief review: It’s another one of those neat New Yorker articles that gets buffed up into a book but that can’t sustain its momentum for 100—let alone 320—pages.) Someone at the Tate Britain must have looked at the book but skipped the part about averaging or consolidating the responses provided.

Since the Tate Britain has decided to hand over curatorial responsibilities to the masses in hopes of getting better performance than they get from their staff, I wonder if other museums will follow suit. I can think of four museum departments that might want to consider this approach ASAP.
The performance of the public (any member of the public) couldn't be any worse, right?



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