Vandalism or Community Engagement?

Part of the reason I write my blog is that I can’t resist editing labels. But there is clearly at least one person who has a compulsion far stronger than mine, as this short documentary published in The New York Times shows.

I almost never watch videos embedded in blog posts. Are other people like me? (As an audience researcher, I feel as if I should do a user study to find out whether a short summary of the video will make people more or less likely to watch the video.)

No time, no funding, so here’s a summary from the Times: “A filmmaker searches for a mysterious vandal who has been correcting grammar on placards in the sculpture garden of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.” Please watch the video anyway. You have to see for yourself the explanation for all the errors. You may also want to see the frequency and magnitude of the errors before you form your opinion of the so-called Vigilante Copy Editor.

Pratt has removed the graffiti, but apparently others have taken up the mantle of the Vigilante Copy Editor. (Ironically, the website where I read this update used the word “mantel” instead of “mantle.”)

Despite the title of my post, I don’t consider these edits an example of community engagement. Nor do I consider the VCE to be a vigilante. But I’m not sure how to feel about him. Were someone to take a Sharpie to any of my labels, my wrath would be terrible to behold. And yet, for an organization to go to the trouble and expense of producing signage durable enough to last years in an outdoor sculpture park, while permitting so many errors to make it all the way through the production process… I can see the temptation.

There was much discussion on the Times web site in response to the original posting of the documentary and accompanying article. But none of the comments seemed to be from museum folk and the like, or from people with any clue about the effort that typically goes into producing museum signage, and that’s whom I’d like to discuss this with.

What are your thoughts about the actions of the VCE? And what do you think about Pratt’s decision to remove the corrections? What does it say that others have taken up the VCE’s task?

Are there any hints in all this to genuine means of achieving community engagement?

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