Leading international art museum directors and curators have debated how to host blockbuster exhibitions while maintaining the quality of a cultural experience.

The symposium Reprogramming the Art Museum: Curatorial & Education Strategies for the 21st Century was hosted by a new research group at UNSW's College of Fine Arts (COFA), called in.site.

Some of the speakers included Dr Adam Lerner from the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver; Justine McLisky from the National Portrait Gallery, London; Lawrence Rinder from the Berkeley Art Museum; and Dr Dominic Willsdon from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

They spoke about the changing roles of the curator and educator in addressing diverse, new audiences; and the impact and potential use of social media, smart phones and web resources.

"Previously it was thought that if the numbers [of viewers] were good, then there wasn't any need to assess the quality. That's changed I think," says COFA academic Dr Gay McDonald, one of the co-convenors of the conference.

Co-convenor, Gary Sangster says that engaging the audience has a powerful impact and educators are key to that process. "While it is natural that museums have looked to curatorial functions in the past, to preserve and interpret the collection and archive, there is a decisive shift. If you don't have contemporary engagement, you won't have a valuable archive, one that represents that history and knowledge."

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Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW media, 9385 1583