News & Notes
I am a member of the National Emerging Museum Professionals Group on Facebook, which keeps me connected to a network of people working throughout the field. A couple of months ago I read a post asking for podcast recommendations and “Working” caught my interest since their most recent season at the time focused on interesting jobs at MoMA. It was described as a podcast “more for people unfamiliar with the museum industry”, which is admittedly not me, but since I love listening to podcasts and am always looking for something new to add to my library, I gave it a listen.
“Working” was great because not only did it interview professionals that you typically associate with the museum industry but also people in other roles in the museum that we often don’t think about or hear from—like the building manager, the director of retail marketing, an event specialist, etc. And not only did you get to learn what they do at the museum—what their day-to-day looks like—but you got to understand them as a full person, what makes their work meaningful to them and the value they find in it.
The episode where they interview the museum’s security supervisor has been one of my favorites. It’s a role that we often see and interact with in museums but don’t tend to think a lot about. It was very interesting to hear the security supervisor talk about how he began working at MoMA, what it’s like to work the floor at the museum, and some of the crazy things that have happened there. Most interesting to me throughout the series has been hearing the different types of relationships each employee has to art, from those whose lives revolve around the arts and the art world, those who are artists themselves, to those who only have a passing interest in the artwork on display. (In a few episodes the artwork barely came up at all!) Each episode evolves into its own conversation where you really get a good sense of who these people are and what it’s like to work at MoMA.
These episodes got me thinking about the unsung museum professionals, whom most visitors don’t pay much attention to or even know about. In our projects with art museums, we mostly work with leaders: directors, curators, department heads, sometimes board members, etc. and they tend to make decisions in small groups, based on their own necessarily limited, high-level view of the institution and its work. But what if those other people with the cool, quirky jobs behind the scenes or on the front lines were part of those decisions? What if their creativity, sense of mission, understanding of art, and perspective on the visitor were part of the conversation and decision-making? Wouldn’t they help make visitors’ experiences more interesting, meaningful, and relevant?
Since we so often hear an interest in “pulling back the curtain” listening to this podcast made me continue to think about the ways we may be able to do that by sharing the voices of the museum’s staff. Hearing the perspectives across the museum reminded me of all the different people who make a museum what it is and how their viewpoint could contribute to the experience visitors have.