Curating as #Public Musicology

During the Public Musicology conference last weekend, an interesting thread / theme kept popping up: curating as public musicology. Sometimes this means carefully choosing repertoire for a public concert (and, of course, providing program notes or literature to support the concert). But there’s also work to be done in museums, as several presenters discussed.

Michael Alan Anderson (Eastman School of Music) and Nancy Norwood (Curator of European Art, Memorial Art Gallery) collaborated on a paper entitled “Museum Soundscapes” that tracked programs they put together for Norwood’s gallery. The idea is to involve students from Eastman in the presentation of music that is thematically tied to the Museum’s current exhibitions. An exhibit of medieval art invites attendees to experience medieval sacred music. As a bonus, Anderson’s students have the opportunity to learn about medieval performance practice and manuscripts, and experience performing in a different venue. Mobile apps further enriched the experience for museum goers. In 2005, Eastman and MAG collaborated on the installation of an Italian Baroque organ at the museum, creating multiple opportunities to link performances on the organ with current exhibits.

Allison Portnow, Public Programs Manager at the Ackland Art Museum and UNC Chapel-Hill, shared a variety of events she has curated for the museum. The Ackland is a very busy museum, and Allison manages many programs simultaneously. She is the person who arranges for musicians to perform at openings or closing receptions, or selects ambient music appropriate for inclusion in an exhibition. She needs not only to know who is available in the local area, but also what music is appropriate to each exhibition. Her job is creative: there’s a constant flow of new music and art to discover. Portnow argued convincingly that particular aspects of museum culture make the museum an ideal place for public musicology. I’d love to hear from readers about other places where musicologists curate museum shows. There is growth potential here!

During the conference I tweeted that we need a panel about curating at AMS. I’m serious about this, although curating lies outside of my own expertise. Who’s up for this?

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