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DIY curating: UK galleries mount virtual shows on lockdown using new digital tool

Art UK's Curations initiative enables “anyone anywhere with internet access” to create an exhibition using the national image database

A new online tool called Curations allows institutions to mount virtual shows

UK museums and galleries have been handed a digital lifeline with the launch of a new online tool called Curations that allows institutions to mount virtual shows during the coronavirus pandemic. Curations, a free-to-use initiative by the Art UK charity, allows users to create exhibitions drawn from Art UK’s online collection that currently numbers more than 250,000 works by 46,000 artists drawn from over 3,000 public institutions.

The London-based Fleming Collection subsequently organised a virtual exhibition on the Curations platform of works by the late 19th-century group known as the Glasgow Boys and Girls, featuring artists such as Edward Arthur Walton. The online show, which draws largely from the Fleming Collection as well as public holdings, is a forerunner of an exhibition to be staged at the Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed, later this year.

“It’s the perfect trailer for the good times to come when the actual exhibition is finally staged. Art UK’s know-how makes virtual curating easy to implement and their word limits focus the mind on [unnecessary] waffling,” says James Knox, the director of the Fleming Collection.

Southampton Art Gallery has also put its exhibition of works by UK painter John Hitchens, which closed in March, on the new platform. “We know that lots of museums are struggling to get a digital offer up and running and this will make a huge difference,” says Sharon Heal, the director of the UK Museums Association.

“Last year, when we were planning Curations, we asked collections about whether this would be useful in preserving digitally exhibitions that had closed. The answer was yes. But now with lockdown, Curations clearly has even more applications than we planned for, whether it be for shows that are deferred or cancelled, or simply imagining what might be possible in the future,” says Andrew Ellis, the director of Art UK.

Members of the public can also use the facility. “Anyone anywhere with internet access and any interest in art or the wide-ranging subject matter depicted can do a curation,” Ellis says. A narrative can be added and the show can remain private or be shared publicly. The broadcaster Joan Bakewell made her own selection, which includes works by Rembrandt and Mark Rothko.

Ellis adds: “The number of Curations created since going live [on 18 May] is 275 with 56 already made public; that is terrific engagement. The audience looking at the curations already created is good and is spending 11 minutes on average reading and exploring.”

Ellis says that the project is the result of digitally connecting more than 3,000 institutions on the Art UK site, bolstering the campaign for a "virtual national collection".

“Curations is a major step forward in democratising art in this country,” he says. The initiative is backed by the Hartlepool-based Ampersand Foundation.