Curating in Context
: Slow Curating as a Reflective Practice

  • Megan Johnston

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The 2000s introduced us to the epoch-changing realities of the internet and social practice, the slow and self-care movements, and the radical politics of the Occupy and protest cultures. Post-2010 has been marked by international responses to right-wing politics, Black Lives Matter, and the Me Too movement. The world has dramatically changed, and museums have had no other option but to shed out-dated conventions and ways of working and thinking. Social engagement with the world around us is now imperative. In this dissertation, I examine the sea change museums are experiencing and the need for more socially engaged practices. I conclude that there is an imperative for seismic changes in curatorial practice.
Museums are important civic institutions with enormous social impact. My research focuses on the changes in art museum curatorship in the second half of the 20th century in Western Europe, primarily in the UK and Ireland, and the US and the role of the curator.
The purpose of this practice-based, multi-site enquiry is to investigate the use of socially engaged curatorial practice in regional museums and art centres to create relevant engagement opportunities with audiences and local communities. It also provides a critical reflection on socially engaged curatorial practice, as it evolves and adapts to political contexts.
After researching examples of socially engaged art practice used by curators, artists, and educators working in American, British, and Irish museums, I tested and re-tested methods and approaches using my own curatorial practice in four sites: Portadown, Northern Ireland, LaGrange, Georgia (US), Fargo, North Dakota (US), and Sligo, Ireland. The key research question was: How can art curators in regional museums and galleries meaningfully engage with audiences and local communities? The experiments facilitated an understanding of shifts in how art is presented and mediated to better engage with audiences and communities. This research generated a reflective, transferable working framework for museum professionals.
​​​​​​​My research reflects new knowledge in the fields of curating, museology, and social practice. While work has been published on socially engaged art practice and its audiences/participants/communities, little has been written on a socially engaged curatorial approach. More importantly, no working framework has been devised to support experimentation in the field. The framework of slow curating is a curatorial process and practice that enables, explores, and expands museum and exhibition experiences for more relevant audience engagement. Slow curating extends previous academic knowledge of curatorial practice, exhibition-making, and institutional critique. As a social practice, it portends alternatives to current museology and provides a map for alternative approaches to mediating contemporary art in a museum context.
Date of AwardMar 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPaul Seawright (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Crooke (Supervisor)


  • Museums
  • Museology
  • Curating
  • Curator
  • Socially engaged art
  • Social practice
  • Community art

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