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How user-curated collections can help visitors be creative

Do you collect anything? Do you have a shelf of treasured children’s books or an album of stamps? Or even a collection of mugs that are just the right size?

Collecting is a fascinating human habit, and one that the museum sector is uniquely versed in.

So how can your harness this activity to help your visitors engage with your collections?

Collecting and creativity

Having a collection is an incredibly important thing.  “About a third of people in the UK collect something.” The Guardian reports, “Their reasons and manner vary hugely.” They suggest motivations might range from the comfort of accumulating belongings, or the sense of connection that objects can offer – such as collecting items once owned by a celebrity.

Of course, the act of collecting goes beyond the ownership of objects. It’s often about categorisation and display, too. Collectors might be trying to build narratives or understanding. To create a timeline or a full picture. Collecting can be analytical, and creative.

“Learning how to collect the right kinds of things, to be selective, to order the material accumulated, to compare its qualities, to think about what remains to be found and to make sense of the importance and meaning of a collection are all useful skills.” Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein explain in Psychology Today, “The fact is collecting exercises a number of important mental tools necessary for creative thinking. The collector learns to observe acutely, to make fine distinctions and comparisons, to recognize patterns within her collection. These patterns include not only the elements that make up the collection, but the gaps in it as well.” They conclude, “In short, making a collection-a collection of just about anything-can provide the intellectual and sensual stimulation necessary to inspire your personal creativity.“

How can museums encourage collecting?

Many museums are giving visitors the option to save items from their online catalogues – helping them to develop their collecting skills and encouraging users to engage deeply with their works.

And browsing these user-curated collections is fascinating – revealing a wide range of intriguing motivations, themes and stories.

Here are 3 online resources to take a look at…

Rijksstudio

The Rijksmuseum’s Rijksstudio is an amazing example of how user-curated collections can help visitors to be more creative. This resource contains over 750,000 works of art, collected and curated by users to create their own Rijksstudios – groups of images similar to a Pinterest board. Since its launch nearly a decade ago, over 600,000 of these Rijksstudios have been created – spanning topics from textile history to Meissen; ‘Weird Stuff’ to simply ‘Things I Like’.

If you don’t know where to start there’s a Master Matcher quiz which offers a quick and easy route into this vast collection. Curated ‘Stories’ offer deep dives into diverse topics and help you to get a richer understanding of the Rijksstudio. The ‘Themed Tours’ page asks ‘How do you approach the collection? Chronologically? By artist, style or material? In this series we do it thematically. Decide for yourself what you want to see more of. Flowers, landscapes, women, or militia group portraits? You will find it here!’

Rijksstudios can be used as trails around the museum. And once you’ve found your feet with the service you can order prints on the works, and download the images to use in your own creative projects.

These creative projects are celebrated every year in the Rijkstudio Awards, which highlights the creative ways in which the public have used the museum’s collection.

Try it out here> Rijksstudio – Rijksmuseum

Museum of Making

The Assemblage display at Derby’s new Museum of Making is an inspiring piece of exhibition design, where objects are arranged as if in a museum store, categorised by their main material. You can amble around the racks and explore intuitively – or you can design your own museum trail using Trail Maker.

If you try the workstations in the gallery, you can browse details of over 1,000 of the exhibits and add your favourites to your own custom trail. You can then print off your selected items and their locations on a receipt-style printout, ready to find the works in the gallery. You can also explore a selection of pre-prepared trails plus build your own custom list online.

Take a look here> Trail Maker.

ArtUK

The ArtUK website shows over 290,000 works from collections around the UK, and their Curations allow you to gather images from multiple organisations and exhibitions. Curations can be made to share your discoveries, tell a story, explain ideas, or can simply be created just for fun.’ they explain.

You can add as much or as little annotation as you like – ‘Albums’ are collections of images, ‘Showcases’ add your text, while ‘Storyline’ plots your images in a list form along a line. This service is elegant and professional and is used extensively by the museum sector. However, a quick scan through the published Curations shows collections created by the general public and guest celebrities, with subjects as diverse as The Art of Drag Race, Famous Hands, and Tea.

Have a go here> Art UK | Discover Curations

Conclusion

By enabling visitors to create their own collections from your archives, you can provide opportunities to deeper learning, skill development and creativity.

And, one would hope that by giving a little ownership to our audiences, they feel more connected not only to the collection but to our museums.

About the author – Rebecca Hardy Wombell

Rebecca Hardy Wombell is a freelance writer who works with a broad range of creative organisations, including artists, galleries, museums and design-led retailers.

Her writing aims to develop and delight audiences by putting her clients’ beautiful works to well-crafted words.

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