Tag Archives: Museum Studies

Five tips (and a bonus!) to landing that first museum job

As promised in my last post about my experience landing my own first ‘real’ museum position. Of course having an well-written cover letter and connections is a big help… but for all of the emerging museum professionals who are wondering if they’ll ever break into the field, or if getting a degree is really worth it (I think it is), these are for you.

Five tips (and a big bonus) to landing a position in museums:

1. Be Confident – not cocky, there is a difference. Be aware of your capabilities and make others know you can and will learn anything beyond that which is necessary.

2. BeRelocate Willing to Relocate – searching in the same little area can often result in nothing because either a) there just aren’t that many museum positions there  or b) you are swimming in a very big pond.

3. Volunteer – Yes, I said it. I had my fair share of unpaid, barely paid, and paid positions and they all count. You HAVE to put your time in. Each position provided learning, experience, and mentorship. You have a full time job to pay the bills? Good, volunteer on the weekends. Leaving no gap in your resume (and showing your dedication) is the. only. way. you will get a job.

4. Make Yourself Invaluable – You must be willing to do what others are not. There are many tasks in museums which are not glamorous, but your willingness to complete them with the same passion you do your favorite duty will show your dedication.

5. Know that this is often a thankless career – feeling unappreciated? Pat yourself on the back. Chances are you’re doing a great job. It’s not that people don’t notice, it’s just that others often have NO IDEA how much work you do in a day, or even what it means to design an exhibition. You know how people thank you? By coming to your programs and exhibitions, by becoming a member, and by putting even a dollar in your donation can. We do this job because WE love it, not because we need to impress anybody else.

6. *BONUS* – Find a Mentor – I am extremely blessed to have found several mentors throughout my time in (and out of) museums. These are people who helped to mold me as a museum leader, who took an interest in my education and my career, and were there any time I needed to call and ask advice about anything. Mentorship cannot be a forced relationship. Find somebody whose personality meshes with yours, they have to be willing to be a mentor and take interest in you, and have something to offer. I’ve called upon my mentors for everything from salary questions, to asking for advice about terrible collections and loans mix-ups, to just having an ear to air my frustrations in the workplace. Mentors are an invaluable resource. I am thankful for each and every one I have.

Have other tips? Please share them in the comments section so that others may see them.

And again, any emerging, or current, or past, museum professionals that have a question or just want to chat museums, feel free to contact me directly. It’s my favorite thing to talk about. I’m a good ear, a strong opinion, and a smiling face.

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Modern/Contemporary Art and the Curiosity Cabinet

Hirst's "The Golden Calf", image from http://www.studio-international.co.uk

This post published at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on February 13, 2011.

Would you pay 18 million dollars for a calf with gold-dipped hooves and horns submerged in a formaldehyde solution? What prices would you be willing to pay for various rarities and commodities just to say you own them? Damien Hirst’s “The Golden Calf” was just one of the oddities mentioned in by Matthew Palczynsk, Staff Lecturer for Western Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in his recent presentation on “Organizing the Curious Damien Hirst.”

Approximately one-hundred people attended the February 5 symposium organized by Seton Hall’s MA Program in Museum Professions which accompanied the exhibition “Working in Wonder” in the Walsh Gallery. The group exhibition, curated by Erin Gray, Danielle Schallom, and Edward Stapley-Brown included artwork by artists that have been inspired by the Curiosity Cabinet, a historical era of collecting occurring between 1500 and 1700.

After a brief welcome and introduction from Dr. Petra Chu, Director of Museum Studies at Seton Hall, the symposium featured eight speakers, a roundtable discussion with artists included in the show, and a wonderful reception in the Gallery. The Keynote Speaker, Lawrence Weschler, Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, began with “A Natural History of Wonder.”

Weschler describing the Cameroonian Stink Ant. Photograph by Danielle Schallom.

Weschler discussed a variety of bizarre artifacts that may be found at The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, California: fruit stone carvings, Cameroonian Stink Ants and vulgar medical treatments. Shown in a sarcastic way, but truthfully displayed, the rarity of these objects is similar to what might have been found in early cabinets. Museums are said to be the voice of authority, but why do we believe the sometimes absurd things we are shown?

Other speakers included:

Kirsten Hoving, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Art History at Middlebury College, who presented “Thinking Inside the Box: Joseph Cornell’s Cabinets of Cosmic Curiosity.”

Melissa Ragain, a PhD candidate in Art history at the University of Virgina, presented “Wonder as a way of Seeing: Gyorgy Kepes and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies.”

Patricia Allmer, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Jonathan Carson and Rosie Miller, artist collaborators, University of Salford, presented “Playing in the Wunderkammer.” The speakers discussed their 2009 exhibition, The Story of Things which was shown at The Manchester Metropolitan University. The artists used artifacts from the collections not as objects but as pieces of art within larger works. The narrative in which they were placed created a type of fiction, playing a game of making up relationships between objects without a linear relationship.

Photograph by Danielle Schallom.

Joanna Ebenstein, cabinetist at the Morbid Anatomy Library, presented “To Every Man his Cabinet or The Morbid Anatomy Library and Cabinet and the Revival of Cabinets of Curiosity.”

The Symposium concluded with a Roundtable led by Jeanne Brasile, Director of Seton Hall University’s Walsh Gallery. Brasile led a discussion with artists Paul Baumann, Tracy Heneberger and Susan Napack, three of the artists featured in the Gallery’s exhibition. Topics included the artists’ choices of materials and an inquiry as to whether each artist felt they were as eccentric and the curiosities they both create and mimic.

Is the curious form of collecting making a comeback?