Rapid Response Collecting: Not All Objects are Created Equal

Today we bring you an article by Erica Colwell, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Studies certificate program. For Museums Today: Mission and Function, the foundation course required for all Museum Studies students, students research and report on a recent topic regarding museums in the news.

In 2014, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London announced a new collecting strategy: rapid response collecting. This type of collecting involves a team of curators that “scour the streets—in a global sense—for items of interest and get them into the museum as quickly as possible.” The goal is to collect objects that are relevant to the present time, in hopes of creating an exhibition that will be updated regularly.

The curators on the rapid response team are putting a lot of thought into the objects they are bringing into the V&A’s collection. Collecting objects that represent current global culture is no easy task, in part because the scope of the collecting strategy is so broad. Some of the objects the V&A has collected via the rapid response method include the world’s first 3D-printed gun, an electronic cigarette, and Katy Perry false eyelashes.3 An eclectic array of objects, it is not immediately apparent why these items are being considered “museum worthy.” Kieran Long, the Senior Curator of Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital at the V&A, offers the following argument for her decision to add the Katy Perry false eyelashes to the collection:

This apparently insignificant object unfolds a wide range of histories and worlds, involving several timely issues that link at a stroke the magic of Cleopatra, as played by Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, to what some would consider the darkest excesses of global consumer capitalism, encompassing theatre and performance, gender theory, images of the feminine…

While this is an impressive argument, such an argument could be made for virtually any object, because every object has a history. A curator could pick up a roll of paper towels and explain how our society has moved from the hand-made to the mass-produced, from the essential to the disposable. Not all objects are created equal.

Even though there may be no right or wrong answer to the question “what is art,” some of the objects collected via the rapid response method are more “museum-worthy” than the Katy Perry false eyelashes. The set of Christian Louboutin stilettos in different shades of nude representing the skin colors of women of different races is one such object. The shoes are art in the fashion sense (the shoes are beautiful) and the conversation-sparking sense (racial inequality is a hot-button issue for many in the world today.) The key is to have an argument that will convince visitors that viewing the object is worthwhile. In fact, getting people to talk about why one object is art and another object is not art is one of the best conversations a curator could hope to start amongst their museum’s visitors. The Louboutin set of stilettos is therefore an example of rapid response collecting done right.

While many might rejoice at a museum displaying objects that are truly current, some are wary of collecting objects in this way. I believe rapid response collecting could be a great thing, though it is possible to take it too far. Though museums cannot ignore the art and design being created today if they want to remain relevant, the arguments behind some of the objects being collected via the rapid response method are stronger than others. Since it is often the relevance of an object over time that indicates its value, collecting objects without that passage of time could mean that the choice of objects is based solely on the tastes of those curators doing the collecting.

Tufts Event: Tisch Talks in the Humanities: The Value of Culturally Enriching Field Trips

You do NOT have to be a student (or even a Tufts alum) to attend. Everyone is welcome, just be sure to RSVP to the email at the bottom of the post so that you have a chair waiting for you!

Tisch Talks in the Humanities: The Value of Culturally Enriching Field Trips

Jay P. Greene, A88, Distinguished Professor & Head of the Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas

October 19 | 12 pm

Rabb Room, Tisch College

Tufts Medford Campus

Join Tisch College for a brown-bag lunch discussion with Tufts alumnus Jay Greene, A88, Professor and Head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and Peter Levine, Tisch College Associate Dean for Research and moderated by Diane O’Donoghue, Tisch College Senior Fellow for the Humanities. Professor Greene will share research on the decline of cultural activities in our schools, what we lose by their disappearance and how providing these culturally enriching experiences will help prepare future citizens for success.

The Initiatives in the Public Humanities at Tisch College sponsors this series of monthly brown bag lunches in 2015-16.  The Tisch Talks in the Humanities seek to identify areas of mutual interest and concern through conversations informed by contemporary civic and cultural practices.

This event is co-sponsored by the Art Education Program, Department of Education, Department of Political Science, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, Museum Studies Program, and Tufts University Art Gallery. Please RSVP by emailing Jessica.Byrnes@tufts.edu.

Interpreting Hidden Black Lives: A Conversation with Actress Tammy Denease

On Thursday, October 1, the Royall House & Slave Quarters is having an event at Tufts featuring a living history interpreter. Actress Tammy Denease will be performing a narrative inspired by the life of Belinda Sutton, a woman enslaved by the Royall family who later successfully petitioned the state for a pension after being freed.

Stop by the Crane Room on Tufts’s Medford campus from 6:00-7:00 to listen this important part of history.


This event is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, Tufts University & The Royall House and Slave Quarters Museum, Medford MA

Jumbo Perks: Lynda.com

LyndaFor years Tufts Technology Services held a small number of monthly licenses to Lynda.com—an encyclopedic self-paced digital learning library. Now the entire Tufts community has unlimited access to this robust technical training library with just their Tufts username and password.

One of my favorite things about Tufts is finding out about all of the resources we have access to as graduate students. Both on-campus and online, our student status opens the door to far more tools and opportunities than we have time to utilize. As you make priorities for this school year, I encourage you to check out the new access we all have to Lynda.com.

One example of the site’s usefulness is a course I am working through called Instructional Design Essentials. In the segment “Getting to Know the Subject Matter Expert,” Lynda.com provides segmented video instruction regarding best practices of collaboration between content experts and educators, and also guides students through each stage of the process, from preparing for the kick-off meeting through wrapping up the final deliverables. It even includes pre- and post-content quizzes and downloadable charts and outlines ready to be customized to a specific project.

Already an instructional design pro? What about Google Analytics, Photoshop, HTML, or Project Management? Take time now to pick a few playlists that specifically connect to your own 3-6 month goals and schedule in this personal development time.

What tools are you most excited to learn?

Alternatively, if you have trained with Lynda.com or a similar site, do you have any tips for making the most of these resources?

Tufts Art Gallery: Fall Exhibitions

As of Thursday, September 10th, the fall exhibitions at the Tufts University Art Gallery are open to the public! The public reception is Thursday, September 17th from 5:00-7:30 in Remis Sculpture Court.



Installation view of Shahzia Sikander’s Parallax. Photo by the Tufts University Art Gallery.

The upstairs Tisch Gallery again features a multi-media installation, this time by internationally-recognized artist Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969, Pakistan). Her immersive animation Parallax, with music and sound by composer Du Yun, was conceived in the United Arab Emirates and first appearing at the Sharjah Biennale in 2013. Related paintings, drawings, and photographs are also included in the Tufts exhibition.


last folio
Installation view of Last Folio. Photo by the Tufts University Art Gallery.

Downstairs, the Koppelman Family Gallery features Last Folio, a part of international commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with previous displays at the United Nations in New York, the National Library of Germany in Berlin, the Mark Rothko Museum in Latvia, and the New Museum of Tolerance in Moscow. Canadian-Slovakian photographer Yuri Dojc teamed with British media producer Katya Krausova and a documentary film team to document their travels to abandoned Jewish spaces in present-day Slovakia. Last Folio features photographs on paper and large sheets that create a contemplative environment.


Detail of Sophia Ainslie (MFA 2001). Ainslie's seven-panel mural, In Person—574. Photo by the Tufts University Art Gallery.
Detail of Sophia Ainslie’s seven-panel mural, In Person—574. Photo by the Tufts University Art Gallery.

The exhibition in Remis Sculpture Court explores the creation and installation of a monumental site-specific art commission for the new Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex at 574 Boston Avenue on Tufts’ main Medford campus by Boston-based artist and Tufts alum Sophia Ainslie (MFA 2001). The displays feature original paintings, materials, and photographs from the creation of her seven-panel mural, In Person—574.