Lost Darwin: an experiment in “distributed curation” through social media

Caddie Brain, Northern Territory Library

Concurrent session 2

Tuesday 14 February 2017, 11:00am - 11:25am


Cultural institutions are consistently early-adopters of new technologies, yet when they become active in the world of social media, often find themselves underwhelmed by the results, and arguably underwhelming to their audiences. But reimagined, social media has so much more to offer cultural institutions. By taking the time to intimately understand potential audiences, their interests, behaviours and motivations, cultural institutions can deepen and enrich their online relationships. This paper examines how the Northern Territory Library (NTL) utilised social media to transform the reach and impact of its public programs, propel donations and redefine its relationship with the local community.

NTL analysed the ways its target audiences were using social media and used these learnings to develop an exhibition entitled Lost Darwin, with content sourced and curated entirely from Facebook. The resulting exhibition featured 65 photographs from 30 contributors, showcasing the most popular and engaging historical photographs of Darwin commonly posted and shared across local Facebook groups and pages. It effectively distributed the curation process, by translating the preferences of online communities into the library’s exhibition space. The project aimed to start new conversations, grow meaningful relationships with new audiences, both online and through physical visitation, and experiment with the use of social media to identify significant personal collections and encourage cultural donations. It was launched in front of more than 400 people, the largest opening of its kind in NTL’s history. It led to an explosion of activity within the library and online, generating unprecedented media coverage and a series of new donations, all of which reasserted NTL as a premier collecting institution in the Northern Territory. Lost Darwin provides a case study of how the transfer of curatorial control can energise public programming and collection development activities, simultaneously transforming audiences from faceless, passive entities into engaged partners and powerful advocates, for the exhibition and hopefully for the institution and sector as a whole.

Presentation - Available now.

Paper - Available now.


Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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