curation is a term usually used in the art world for the role of imagining and overseeing an exhibition space or spaces either working with one or a group of artists. it's a term that has been adopted by quite a few people in alternative/creative worship. in my memory it's mark pierson who came up with this as a helpful way of thinking about worship leading both in the prodigal project and in the cd rom fractals. we have adopted this as a term to describe the person who leads a creative team putting together worship in grace and found it a helpful way to think about it. mark pierson describes a worship curator as
(The content would be prepared by others.)
A provider of a frame inside which the elements are arranged and rearranged
to convey a particular message for a particular purpose.
however... i realised the other week that whilst i go to quite a few exhibitions i actually don't really know a lot about curation in the art world other than experiencing the fruit of the work. what is the discipline? what is the process? what are the skills? what makes for good curation? so when i was in a gallery bookshop i bought a book called curating subjects - a pretty obscure text in some ways - that is a series of pieces on curation and what it's role is and where it's headed. i have been so struck by the richness of the ideas that as a result
a) i think if i'd taken another set of turns in life i would love to be an art curator!
b) i'm going to try and blog a few pieces in relation to ideas in this book that might connect if you are involved in worship creation/curation.
c) i think this could be an ongoing series where i want to reflect on particular curators of alternative worship and interview them about how they go about things (i haven't asked anyone yet but it's an idea!)
so first up a pragmatic post. i wrote some notes for people taking a lead role in planning a grace service a few years back when we were first shifting to working in smaller creative teams rather than everybody planning everything (why did we ever think that was a good idea?!) and they might be of interest. they don't really get under the skin of curation. but it's how things get done!
• facilitation of planning meetings
We usually have two planning meetings set aside for planning a service. Sometimes it is less if it is a simple structure such as 'nine'. The first meeting is usually a free flowing brainstorm, drawing out ideas and inspiration for the theme. The second one is the time when the ideas are knocked into shape for a service and reponsibilities delegated for the various components. The role of curator is to chair both of these meetings and keep them focused and on track. It is also worth doing some thinking for both ahead of time to have things to throw in to the mix for the first meeting and maybe some notions or ideas of how this might take shape before the second. Part of the meeting role is either taking notes on the discussion and order of service or asking someone else to and then e-mailing them round the group.
• reflection on emerging direction and content between meetings
After the brainstorm sometimes there is a clear idea for a service that is going to be easy to pull together. But other times the discussion may not have produced too many concrete ideas. In the latter case the curator should take the initiative to think what might help nudge the process on a bit before the second meeting. This could be e-mailing round some thoughts for discussion before the second meeting. Or it might be finding a few new ideas to throw into the mix, or suggesting a litugical framework or an idea of using stations or whatever to help give it shape.
• ensuring distillation of service order
It is crucial that by the end of the second meeting there is an order of service with names allocated for tasks. This must be circulated soon after the meeting as this second meeting is usually the Monday before Grace. As curator it is your role to fill the gaps - the order is sometimes less than complete!
• ensuring allocation of tasks
There are several areas of tasks. Each of these needs to be checked.
1. Tasks for the service order - hopefully most tasks for producing stations/prayers/liturgy/video etc will have been agreed at the second planning meeting. But it may be that there were gaps and you need to ensure that those gaps are filled. This may include asking people who were not present at the meeting.
2. Audio - somebody needs to be at Grace who knows how to run the sound. Usually we now plug into St Mary's PA system. But we can easily use the Grace PA instead. Your role as curator is to check that someone is there who can set this up (assuming there is audio required). You will also need to check that the music or songs required are able to be played via double CD player, ipods or whatever means.
3. Visual stuff - somebody needs to be at Grace who knows how to set up and run the visual side of things. This might involve drapes, slide proctors, TVs, data projectors, video mixer, laptops, and mac classics. These aren't all necessary but your role as curator is to help decide which of these are required and how they will be used in the space.
4. Cafe - ensure that some one has agreed to get food for the cafe and set it up and run it.
5. Welcoming people - this is soething that sometimes gets overlooked especially is setting up gets behind and there is a general sense of panic. But it is important that you ask someone to welcome people at the door. And if setting up is behind so that the service is going to start late, let people know over the microphone so that they know what is happening. At the end of the service someone should give a notice to invite people to stay for the cafe.
• mailing round of service order
Once the order of service is planned e-mail it round. You should ideally e-mail round the brainstorm notes and then the service order after meetings one and two
• checking that people are doing their tasks, have necessary help/support to deliver
usually everyone does their tasks (albeit on the day of Grace!) but if there are tasks that are more complex (e.g. making a new video piece that needs to run on a dvd loop such as we had to do for the Creation installation) these are the things to check are happening ok.
• arranging cover or alternatives if someone can't deliver
If it transpires that someone is ill, unable to be at Grace, or just too busy to do what was planned, you need to rework the order of service - this might mean finding someone else to do the task or it might be finding or getting someone else to find something to replace whatever it was.
• ensure forthcoming service is advertised
There are four usual ways we advertise services: a) e-mail the grace mailing list. It is helpful if you can write one or two sentences to send Mike that describe or intrigue people about the service. b)put the next service on the front page of the web site. Again a few sentences or something intriguing or a visual image if you have one can help in this. c) if appropriate e-mail St Mary's asking them to include it in the news letter. There is only any point in doing this if you can do it after the first planning meeting. It's too late after the second. d) enourage members of Grace to plug it to friends and in any of their avenues of communication
• oversight of setting up
On the day it is your role to have thought about how the space will be and oversee the setting up process. If there are particular items that are not always there (e.g. bread and wine and cup and plate if there is communion) you need to ensure that someone is bringing those. It is also worth checking who is around to help set up and clear up. There have been occasions when very few people are there to set up. It is always easier if you check in advance.
• collecting service material afterwards for publication on grace website and grace noticeboard
Please collect any bits and pieces from the service for the web site.
• collecting feedback about the service [from team or congregation] and reporting to team afterwards
We usually have a brief moment to reflect on the service at a meeting. You can lead that or if you prefer e-mail round for feedback.
These notes are meant to be a guideline to ensure the bases are covered. But curation is an art we are all learning so there are probably gaps in the notes and you may have other creative ways of facilitating the process via other communication means etc. So don't let the notes hold you back. There may also be certain services (e.g. Ten) that require much more planning and a different kind of process.
if there are particular worship experiences/events/installations that spring to mind that you think it would be really interesting to know how they were pulled together leave a comment. i want to compile a list of people and events to explore in conversation. if you blog and want to dive in the conversation on curation please do and send me a link if you write something so i can track the dialogue.