Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Meet the Mentees

It's hard to believe that it's taken me until mid-February to post about the two new colleagues selected for the 2015 mentor program--but nine cities in nine different countries have held me up (much more later on museums visited along the way).  Again this year, I had an incredible pool of candidates, from several different countries, at many different stages of their career.  Some were graduates of museum studies programs; others had entered the field in different ways.  All of you who applied raised great questions and prompted me to think about new ideas and approaches.  Many thanks to all of you who applied, but I'm pleased to introduce Shakia Gullette and Susan Fohr.

Shakia is Curator of Exhibitions at the Banneker-Douglas Museum in Baltimore, MD.  She's working on her MA in African-American Studies and has worked for a variety of museums in the Baltimore area.  She's curious about:
At the present moment I am most interested in the treatment of the African Diaspora in other countries. It’s one thing to read about it, but to see it in person when you are travelling abroad is a totally different experience. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a group of friends and I travelled to Amsterdam for the second time and we had the pleasure of participating in the Black Heritage Amsterdam walking tour. It was absolutely amazing!!! I discovered in greater detail the Dutch involvement in slavery and the role Amsterdam played in the Dutch slave trade.
One change she'd passionately like to see in the museum field is:
Right now for me, I would like to see more African Americans in the field. Within the last 20 years, there has been a great emergence of African American in the field but public history is still a field that many African Americans know little about. I stumbled into this profession, and I was actually encouraged to go the traditional route as opposed to entering the field. I would like to help young African Americans realize that public history unlocks a world of creativity that no other profession can do. If I can help to introduce this profession others that would make me feel like I have a greater purpose on this earth.
Shakia has loads of questions, both about her career path, about the field, about exhibit development, but she promises me,
My mind is always moving, and I always have questions, what I can promise you from me as a mentee if chosen, is that I will always have questions for you. Talking through my thoughts is something that I have done since I was a child, and through that process comes a million and one questions that sometimes go unanswered.

Susan is Education Programs Coordinator at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto as well as a active volunteer in a number of areas, including as (what a great title!) Supreme Gleaner, leading fruit picks in urban backyard.  She's an avid maker of all things textile.

She's curious about:
I have become fascinated by learning how the objects I use in my everyday life are created. To this end I try to engage in the processes of making things myself, and, as much as possible, make things from first principles. I love to knit, but I have also learned how to process a raw fleece, dye that fleece with plants I’ve foraged, and spin the fibre into yarn. I love to cook and make preserves, but I have also grown my own vegetables from seed. I have had to be realistic about how far I take this making – the allotment garden plot I had in the north end of the city became a lot harder to get to once I found myself with a full-time job downtown, and it’s hard to find space in a small one bedroom apartment to store a 7 pound fleece... 
I want others to be curious to learn about the origins of the things that they are using on an everyday basis, and I think there is no better way to nurture these conversations than to involve people in making things themselves. I don’t expect someone I’ve taught to knit embrace it as obsessively as I have, but I do hope that by trying the technique themselves, it will allow them to think more critically about what is involved in making their clothes. As one member of the contemporary craft community has noted, “the creation of things by hans leads to a better understanding of democracy, because it reminds us we have power.”
One change she would like to see in the field is:
The experiences described above highlight one change I would like to see in the museum field – greater creativity in the ways that museum exhibitions and programs engage all the senses. I have seen wonderful examples of this way of thinking at my own museum – for example, the playing of a jazz composition in situ with a West African batik cloth to show the similarities in rhythm between the pattern on the cloth and the music -- but I know we can do more of this. The Textile Museum of Canada has an incredibly rich collection of ethnographic textiles from all over the world, but these objects did not originate in the isolation in which they now find themselves at the museum. Many of them were used in the context of celebration and ritual; how can we incorporate the food and dance and music and song of the object’s origins within the context of the museum experience?
And not surprisingly, one of her key questions for the year is how to encourage museums to more creatively "present culture as a living and evolving practice, and encourage visitors to engage more fully in their culture, whatever that might be."

I'm looking forward to some great conversations in the coming year and you'll be hearing from both Shakia and Susan in guest blog posts here.

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