The “Curation” of Southie and the General Over Use of the Term
December 10, 2012 § 4 Comments
We were in Southie yesterday, the former Irish-Catholic working-class neighbourhood of Boston. Southie is undergoing massive yuppification these days. The working classes are being squeezed out, and the yuppies are moving in. This was clear as we took the #9 Broadway bus from Copley Square into Southie. The bus is the great equaliser of Boston society; in some parts of the city, it’s the only time one sees large numbers of minorities. We got off the bus at the corner of West Broadway and A Street, on our way to a yuppified Christmas foodie craft fair at Artists for Humanity on West 2nd Street. In a lot of ways, Southie looked to me like a combination of parts of the Plateau Mont-Royal and Pointe-Saint-Charles back home in Montréal. The architecture was Plateau-like in terms of post-industrial spaces and housing, but the people looked like they could be in the Pointe. There was a curious mixture of the down and out, the working-classes, hipsters, and yuppies of every skin colour.
Gentrification is a creeping problem in pretty much every North American and European city, and much has been written about this, including on this very blog (like, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters). But what struck me the most was Social Wines, a wine and beer emporium in a spanking new building on West Broadway at A Street. Social Wines offers its clientele “Curated Craft Beer and Spirits.” Now, I must confess, this is my kind of store: it focuses on smaller, indie breweries and vineyards. I like giving my money to these kinds of companies, rather than the Molsons, Budweisers, and massive vineyard conglomerates of the world. But curated? What the hell does that mean?
According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary on-line, a “curator” is “one who has the care and superintendence of something; especially : one in charge of a museum, zoo, or other place of exhibit. To “curate” is: “to act as curator of a museum or exhibit curated by the museum’s director.”
Of late, hipsters and academics have abused the term “curate” like it’s nobody’s business. It is one thing, in the field of Public History and its corollaries, to write of the ways in which museums and the like have “curated” items. That is the proper use of the term. But when editors of edited collections of academic papers start referring to themselves as “curators” and not “editors,” well, then we have a problem. Meanwhile. Hipsters. On any given day, one can go to PitchforkMedia and see articles about this or that music festival that has been “curated” by someone. The most egregious example of this is the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, which takes place in merry olde England, with branches occurring in the US, too. Each year, ATP is “curated” by a guest musician, one of stature and great fame. What that means is that someone is in charge of deciding who should play, and the list of artists reflects the curator’s tastes. Yup, deciding who should play a music festival is curation.
And so now we have a hipster beer and wine store in Southie that offers us “curated” booze. What, exactly is curated? The collection of booze on sale. See, the old ma and pop liquor store down the street just orders in booze that they figure their clientele will enjoy. But, not hipsters, they lovingly and carefully “curate” the collection of booze on sale at Social Wines. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better knowing that rather than having some old geezer just randomly order wines and beers that may or may not be any good, we have the fine folk at Social Wines to very carefully curate their collection.
My problem with the use of this term? It’s very simple. It’s pretentious. And nothing quite says “I’m a wanker” like declaring that you curated your liquor store. I applaud Social Wines’ mission. Hell, next time I’m in Southie, I may even stop in and peruse their collection of wines. But the use of this term by book editors, musicians, and liquor store owners also seriously devalues the meaning of the word in its true professional sense.
Professional curators, those who work in museums and art galleries, do not just collect stuff they like to display. They are responsible for the content of exhibits, and they are required to carefully make decisions on what is appropriate and what is not, to carefully arrange the displays, to negotiate with sponsors, and so on and so forth. There is a reason why curators go to school to learn how to properly curate. Musicians and liquor store owners do not.