"We want visitors to focus on what they liked, what they didn't like, and why," Blumenthal said. "That's something we haven't seen in other crowd-curated museum exhibits."
All told, it took the Walters' staff about six months to select the top vote-getters. Work compiling the favorites list began in November, when visitors to the museum website were asked to browse images and tag those works that they'd like to collect.
At the beginning of this year, museum patrons were asked to select among four potential motifs. After another vote, "real and imagined creatures" became the exhibition theme.
The Walters' staff then winnowed the artworks down into those fitting the "creatures" category and asked viewers to rank them. More than 53,000 votes were cast in February and March by people who visited the museum either in person or online.
Advocates of crowd-curated exhibits often say they've been inspired by James Surowiecki's 2005 book, "The Wisdom of Crowds."
The book wonders why large groups of people tend to make more accurate predictions than experts when it comes to guessing everything from the weight of a prize-winning steer to the number of jelly beans in a glass jar.
Perhaps, museum officials speculate, the same rule also applies to opinions and judgments, and not just verifiable facts. Crowd-curated art exhibits are aimed at testing that hypothesis.
Merritt of the national museum association said that in the four years since "Click!" debuted, she's heard of perhaps two or three art shows a year in which the works were determined by popular vote.
In fact, Baltimore-area residents now have a second chance to experience a crowd-curated exhibit.
A show exploring the evolution of video games as an aesthetic medium is a big hit at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. The exhibit runs through September before departing on a 10-city national tour.
The 80 games on display were chosen from an initial pool of 240 by a public vote. More than 3.7 million ballots were cast by 119,000 people from 175 countries in early 2011, according to museum spokeswoman Laura Baptiste.
At times, the line to get into the video game exhibit has extended for more than two city blocks, she said, and visitors have waited for more than an hour to gain entrance.
It's because of responses like these that "crowd sourcing" — in which an organization solicits the expertise of nonexperts — was named by the American Association of Museums as one of the top seven trends in the art world in 2012.
"I talk to museums every day that complain that they're broke and not making money," Merritt said. "You can't just whine that no one is supporting you. You have to do something fun that people want to engage with, even if it means overturning the power structure.
"You can't just say that you're always going to be the expert and you're always going to be in charge. If museums are going to survive, they'll have to start giving up some of their traditional authority."
If you go
"Public Property" runs Sunday through Aug. 19 at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. Free. Call 410-547-9000 or go to thewalters.org.
"The Art of Video Games" runs through Sept. 30 at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, at 8th and F streets N.W., Washington. Free. Call (202) 633-1000 or go to americanart.si.edu.
'Public Property' events
The Walters Art Museum has scheduled three events that encourage the public to get up close and personal with their favorite works of art:
'Game Show' The June 23 opening event will feature an "American Idol"-style competition from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Artworks will be the "contestants," there will be a panel of celebrity judges and an audience vote will determine the winners. Visitors can sample wares from food trucks parked outside the museum.
'Art Bytes' What's being billed as Baltimore's first art museum "hackathon" will be held July 27-29. Members of the public and invited guests from Baltimore's technological community will spend the weekend writing computer programs. Their aim? To solve challenges facing museums and to enhance the experience of future visitors.
'Wiki Loves Monuments' Walters visitors are being asked to help the Maryland Historical Society preserve the city's monuments. Exhibit-goers who pick up a map of the city's public art sculptures will be encouraged to take photographs that document the statues' conditions and any needed repairs. Then, on Aug. 11, participants at the museum will upload their photos onto Wikipedia from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and create an online archive.
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