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Crowd-Curated Public Property Exhibition at the Walters Invites Community Participation throughout Exhibition Process

Participants contribute to a series of collective decisions before and during the exhibition


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May 15, 2012

Media Contact:
Amy Mannarino
410-547-9000, ext. 277

Baltimore—This summer, the Walters Art Museum will present Public Property, an experimental exhibition collectively created by the public. In 1931, the museum’s founder Henry Walters bequeathed the core collection of the Walters to the City of Baltimore “for the benefit of the public.” The Walters’ art is owned by the public, and it is the public who will determine what this exhibition will be. From Dec. 2011–March 2012, a series of public choices were made, from deciding the exhibition title and theme, to selecting artworks. While on view June 17–Aug. 19, 2012, visitors will continue to contribute to, and change, this exhibition.

Public Property is about public choice, but it also raises questions about how people form preferences and make decisions as individuals, social groups and organizations. Different types of decision making will be explored, including impulsive/reflexive decisions, based on sensory information and emotion, and analytic decisions, based on data and logic. With an understanding of decision-making types, visitors can better reflect upon their own preferences and become aware of the processes that inform their choices not only about art but also about politics and culture.  

“At a time of increasing concern about equity and democracy within society, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Arab Spring, I’ve been thinking more about the role of museums not only to act as expert but also to encourage civic participation in our exhibition process,” said Walters Director Gary Vikan. “This exhibition aims to be socially engaging and to work with the public in a collaborative manner as an experiment and experience for both the participants and the museum itself.”

The first stage of the exhibition planning process ran from Dec.1–18, 2011. The public used the Walters’ works of art site to curate collections of artworks and tag them with keywords. The Walters’ exhibition team analyzed these tags to determine some popular themes. They were adornment, military, creatures and death. From Dec. 23, 2011–Jan. 8, 2012, a vote was held, both online and at the museum, to determine the exhibition theme. “Creatures” received the most votes, becoming the publically determined theme. The team then selected a large group of creature-related artwork to choose from and received more than 53,000 votes from the public.

The public selected 106 artworks, including Antoine-Louis Barye’s watercolor, Running Jaguar, and an Indian work on paper, A Wild Boar Hunt. A selection of the 23 most admired paintings will be displayed in the exhibition. Other artworks, including manuscripts and three-dimensional objects, will be featured on a “wall of fame,” as images of the artworks with information on their popularity. Due to conservation concerns about the fragility of some objects, the “wall of fame” allows the Walters to honor public choices and feature publicly selected artworks even if the objects cannot be physically exhibited.

“Once the exhibition is open, there will be a variety of interactive elements to complement the chosen artworks,” said Walters Manager of Web and Social Media and exhibition team leader, Dylan Kinnett. “For example, a computer kiosk will allow visitors to vote and view how their decisions affect results in real time, as well as up-to-the-minute trends.”

At each stage of the exhibition process, the museum is encouraging and supporting public contributions. For example, a community bulletin board will invite conversation among visitors and the museum. This is a place to post questions about art, museums, the exhibition or collective decision making. Participants can answer or comment on other’s questions, and each week the museum will also post a question for discussion. Responses will be collected, shared and analyzed to inform future museum decisions and provide greater insight into public preference.

“The exhibition vision, process and design are critical to changing perceptions and attitudes regarding museums by inviting civic participation in an intentional manner,” stated Manager of Family Programs and exhibition team leader, Emily Blumenthal. “We will have a series of events inviting visitors to become further involved with their community, their museum and their exhibition.”

For more event information, visit

The Walters Art Museum

The Walters Art Museum is located in downtown Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets. Its permanent collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art, and Old Master and 19th-century paintings.


Choosing Artworks, Educators use tablet computers to invite visitors to record their choice of artworks

Antoine-Louis Barye, Running Jaguar, ca. 1830s–1840s, watercolor on slightly textured, medium thickness, cream wove paper, 23.2 x 28.7 cm, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Indian, A Wild Boar Hunt, ca. 1675, pigments on paper, 23.2 x 27.9 cm, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Promised gift of John and Berthe Ford

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