Page 1






title search What should we name the exhibition?


collection survey Which art would you collect?

Public Property 500 votes Popularity Contest Vox Populi Public works ..........

4 voting opportunities public property June 17–August 19

The exhibition this summer is an experiment It is built to be an experience that you helped create. It is about the choices we make as a museum, as a collective, and it is about creating equity in decision-making. Through the exhibition and ongoing discourse with the public, we hope to raise some questions, including: How can we, the public, effectively work together to make choices about art? What choices will we make? Are they valid? Why or why not? Are we sure?

WHAT’S IN A NAME? In December 2011 we introduced the notion of a publically curated show with a statement that read, “This summer, we’re having an exhibition, and you get to decide what it will be.” We posed the question “what should we name the exhibition?” on Facebook, at and through e-mail. People made suggestions and 6 × THEWALTERS.ORG

then chose from a variety of titles, such as “Popularity Contest,” “Vox Populi” and even “Probing the Public.” “Public Property” was the most popular choice with 500 votes, and an appropriate choice for a museum and a collection that Henry Walters bequeathed to the City of Baltimore, “for the benefit of the public.”

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA? Typically, museum exhibitions begin with a central theme or “big idea” chosen by a curator. Our fall exhibition—Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe—carries its theme nicely in the title. How might the public try their hand at choosing the theme for an exhibition? We asked people “If you could choose five works of art from the Walters to collect, which artworks would you choose? Think about your choices and tell us about them.” We surveyed the visitors’ preferences and habits, both within the museum using a survey card and online, analyzing data about the way visitors use the museum’s website. We condensed this vast information and four themes emerged: “Death,” “Adornment,” “Creatures” and “Military.”



theme selection Choose a theme. Drop a chip.

creature selection What should be included in the exhibition?

The big ideas distilled:






no vs


military adornment creatures











GET THE VOTE OUT In the earlier phases of this process, which were very much an online affair, the museum learned several valuable things from the public. We heard comments such as: “I don’t want to have to use my log-in to participate” “Can I do this while I’m at the museum?” “No thanks. I’m not interested in filling out a card.” We learned that, although there was a strong and growing interest in participating, it had to be easy, fun and accessible in order for people to take part. So, we went shopping! We bought bright, red poker chips, the clay kind, which have a good, solid feel to them. We constructed a polling station, which invited museum visitors to “choose a theme; drop a chip” in order to select the theme(s) of their choice.

we’re having an exhibition, and you get to decide what it will be

53,000 votes were cast.

The polling station was placed near the museum’s main entrance during our busy holiday season. Over time, the piles of chips

began to form a physical bar chart, as hundreds of visitors tossed chips to place their vote. The physical voting station was accompanied by sets of internet surveys, allowing those far and wide to contribute as well. At the end, there were 1,722 votes: 292 for “military,” 414 for “adornment,” 462 for “death”; the winner was “creatures” with 554 votes, which was 32% of the total.

COME ON AND SAFARI WITH ME The public had spoken and had chosen a theme. Now, it was time to choose works of art to be included in the exhibition: which works of art best fit the theme “creatures”? The exhibition team went on a safari through the museum’s collections, searching for objects and artworks with creatures. How do you present hundreds of artworks to the public so that they can make decisions in a clear and transparent manner that is also easy and fun? We chose a tool to help us with that task: an internet application, developed by the Department of Sociology at Princeton University. It’s called “photocracy” for “photo + democracy.”


public property The user’s screen showed two options at a time, both artworks that featured creatures. By clicking on one picture in a pair, users expressed a preference for one work of art over another. Visitors could choose from as many or as few pairs as they liked, and could stop at any time. Stopping turned out to be the hard part. By the end of the voting phase, the museum had collected more than 53,000 votes.

THE EXHIBITION OPENS JUNE 17 Objects chosen by the public will be exhibited in our main exhibition space. Participatory voting and choice continue; once the exhibition opens we will introduce a variety of interactive elements to complement the chosen artworks and to continue asking questions about how and why we make decisions about art. We welcome the dialogue that has resulted from this process. We welcome the ability to converse with others through new technologies, and we invite your feedback. We are better able to serve and respond to our audiences because of this, and we hope that you will have something to say. As a result of Public Property, we hope that museum visitors become participants. As a collective, we aim to have our voices and choices heard and included, not just in this exhibition, but in the future of the museum. We hope that you will leave this experience feeling empowered to contribute to the activities and decisions of the museum, as well as other aspects of public, artistic and political life. Welcome. We’re open. We’re free. We’re yours. —emily blumenthal, manager of family programs & dylan kinnett, manager of web & social media

We Welcome the dialogue. Please fill in the talk bubbles.

Game Show at the Walters Saturday, June 23, 7:30 p.m. We’re kicking off the exhibition with a grand game show in our auditorium. Inspired by reality television game shows, we’ll feature the artworks as “contestants,” where the winner is determined by the audience and a small panel of celebrity judges.

Art Bytes Friday, July 20–Sunday, July 22 During this “hack-a-thon” weekend, programmers, designers and other creatives are invited to meet up at the museum and to collaboratively build a project (software program, bot, app, hardware, etc.) inspired by one of the museum’s works of art that that group has selected. Beach at Cape May / Alfred Jacob Miller / American / ca. 1840



Public Property  
Public Property  

This summer, the Walters Art Museum will present Public Property, an exhibition collectively created by the public.