Are DJs curators (and vice-versa)?

The word ‘curator’ gets used liberally these days to talk about stuff people do on the web. But does that devalue the term? Is there any way what someone does on Facebook is comparable to the years of training and knowledge which goes into curating collections in museums and galleries?

This is one of the questions we’ll be trying to resolve in the first of the sessions of this network. When David Gauntlett and I had a nice pizza with John Stack, Head of Tate Online, we got all enthused about the idea of playlists and how an art gallery could enable people to compile their own ‘playlists’ of paintings or objects, and so could curate their own exhibition.

Now in one way, that’s kind of reducing the concept of curation to “personalising” in the sense that someone could curate their own exhibition without knowing about art (only knowing what they like). I’ve tried to separate the concept of expert curation – knowing about art – and social curation – knowing what I like or what my “friends” “like”. On that basis DJs would be expert curators and their fans would be social curators. But does that mean that everyone’s a curator, and the term becomes meaningless?

Well, I think not. The important thing is not who has a job title and who doesn’t, but the type of activity people are engaged in. That’s where the neologism ‘curation’ comes in. It allows us to understand this as an activity rather than a job. So people who work in museums and galleries practise expert curation, and people who share things on the internet practise social curation (it’s a real phrase, just Google it).

And what this project is (partly) about is identifying ways of connecting these different ways of carrying out similar activities. We’ll have real museum curators and real DJs along at our first workshop session. So hopefully they’ll make beautify metaphorical music together at the University of Westminster on Thursday 29th March.

PleaseĀ sign up if you’d like to join us.

Until then, you could read this really helpful blogpost from a real proper museum curator who’s trying to work out if she’s really been a DJ all these years.


Photo DJ Hero by Flickr user djrofi Some Rights Reserved used under Creative Commons Licence


  1. I’d recommend reading Rhythm Science by Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid). His column in New York’s Paper magazine in the late 90s were essential in the development of a theoretical discussion, inside and outside academia, around the experimental and creative potential of DJing.

  2. Nora McGregor:

    I think you’ll find this ‘Open Letter to Everyone Using the Word Curator Incorrectly on the Internet’ both amusing and informative. HA!

  3. Paul Dwyer:

    Thanks for spotting this. Here’s my comment (not a riposte or anything impressive like that)

    and here’s a much more informed contribution from someone who’s “on my side”.

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