Are conferences really a way of curating people and ideas?

Posted: July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

Curating and curation are now baked into much of our language use when we talk about learning and making sense of the overwhelmingly abundant information in the world now digitised.

But the question was posed by Mel Jones on Twitter via Anna Kingston and I found myself agreeing and disagreeing in equal measure.

I speak and attend a lot of conferences so my view is taken from that experience.  I get asked to recommend speakers and formats, seek out new topics and themes and generally assemble something with worth.

I know many people who put on conferences see themselves as curators. Others are event planners and organisers who happen to curate content via the speaker they secure.  Know thy audience is often a starting point. Check out the latest hot topics in trade journals and the media writ large, have a good black book of contacts. And now of course, sweat social media.

Curators really? Perhaps incidentally they curate.  But let’s look at the curator word.

A curator (from Latin: curare meaning “take care”) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (i.e., gallery, museum, library or archive) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.
Curator – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia › wiki › Curator

Content specialist. Hmm. Not many conference organisers I’ve come across can really lay claim to being a content specialist (with the greatest respect).

A people, content and experience aggregator? Perhaps. A compiler?  Maybe.

Let’s look at a conference as a short term museum. A temporary collection of short term heritage.  A learning environment based on experiences, artifacts, displays. Curator still feels a stretch for those involved in putting the event together.

My mind drifted to theme parks. Theme park designers put together rides, sideshows and performances to excite and engage their attendees.  Conferences have some of that – maybe not the rides but who knows with VR headsets these days.  Not much curation going on there though I feel.

TED events have curator roles. People who seek out speaker experts with content and themes in line with the Technology Entertainment and Design triage.  TEDs resource: website and app – is an ongoing museum of content and performance so I suppose that counts.

Most conferences are now supported by bloggers. Now these guys are often experienced hands in their trade and with cultivated networks that reach. They post tweets, blogs, vines. Curation of sorts coming there. More curation in that space than those aggregating people and information that forms the conference agenda.

So conferences are loose curating vehicles and more aggregating, thematic, experiences merged with a learning venture.

Yes there is curation going on but I think they start from a performance perspective (theme park/festival) have incidental curation (during production then from blog squads) and end up sometimes in museums of online story telling.

Aggregation that can equal curation is my best shot at this in answer to the question.

Perhaps they (conferences) ought to be more curation instigated and focused throughout but then I’m not the conference organizing expert.

More an enthusiastic attendee, contributor and curator…I’ll get me coat and bag of free expo swag.


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