Thursday, December 20, 2012

Who Wants a Mentor for the New Year?

I'm convinced that career paths are a mix of luck and intentionality--and as my friend Christopher reminded me the other day,  it's sometimes hard to sort out the two.  For me 2012 has reflected that same mix: ongoing planning with my great Take 5 colleagues, an intentional partnership initiated by Rainey Tisdale for our new book, and some freelance luck that has led me to both incredible places (Newfoundland and Europe) and some great new colleagues.

But in the spirit of holiday abundance, I wanted to spread a little of that luck and intentionality around to you, dear colleagues.  I've been lucky (or intentional?) enough to have some tremendous mentors over the years, from a board president who taught me the meaning of patience and negotiation;  a board treasurer who showed me how to think about financial statements as narratives;   folklorists who helped me understand the deeper meanings and values of communities;  an entire range of colleagues in Ukraine who made it possible for me to understand that complicated place; my own visual family, Drew and Anna,  who always encourage me to look closer and so many more.

Every career path is unique,  but I do think I've learned some lessons over the years that I could share one-on-one with colleagues.  So here's the deal:  I'll be choosing one person to work with as a mentor in 2013.  We'll set out a plan for the year, meet monthly via Skype,  and explore where you want to go in your career and how you might get there.  I'll make introductions as I can,  recommend resources, and provide a listening ear for those thorny work problems.  This is open to anyone at any stage in their career:  you can be a student, an emerging professional, or a mid-career staffer trying to figure out what's next.  And of course, in this ever-more global world, you can be anywhere in the world.  The only thing I ask in return is that, over the course of 2013,  you write three blog posts for the Uncataloged Museum.

If you think this could be a useful process for you,  here's what you need to do.  By January 4send me an email with following:
  • Your current position and a brief description of how you got there
  • A memorable, outside of classroom, learning experience at any point in your life
  • Two or three key questions you'd like to address during the year and how you think I might be helpful
  • Brief responses to these few questions below from Twyla Tharp's Creativity Inventory:

  • What is the first creative moment you remember?
  • When you work, do you love the process or the result?
  • At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp?
  • What is your ideal creative activity?  
Questions?  Of course, be in touch!
Image:  Set design for Holiday (act 2). Philip Barry. ca. 1940. Peggy Clark Collection. Music Division, Library of Congress.

Monday, December 3, 2012

When Was the Last Time You Were Surprised at a Museum?

Can you think back to a time that you were surprised--really surprised--by the approach a museum took to its subject?  Not just interested or intrigued, or even shocked?  But surprised by the creativity and ingenuity;  the ability to see things in new ways and turn our ideas about museums on their heads?  I think of the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum in Kyiv, Ukraine as one such place but last week I discovered another one in Paris:  the Museum of Hunting and Nature.  The majority of my previous experiences in Paris museums had been pretty conventional--but several US colleagues and the well-informed docents at Context Travel recommended a visit here and so I set off on a gray afternoon to see what I could see.
You just read that museum's name and thought, hmm,  guns and dead animals, right? Boring, right, unless you're really interested in guns and/or taxidermy.  Nothing new.  Absolutely wrong.  The museum was founded by Fran├žois and Jacqueline Sommer,  a wealthy couple interested in both hunting and conservation.  It's located in a majestic 17th century mansion in the Marais.  Their goal was to explore the relationship between humans and nature, through the lens of hunting.   Okay, still sounds pretty conservative in a museum sense, right?  Surprise!
The inventive installations in the museum combine contemporary art, taxidermy, the traditions of the cabinet of curiousities, historic objects, and what can only be described of as flights of fancy to create one of the most unusual museum visits I've ever been on. And by the way,  the use of media and new technologies was minimal.  Ideas, not bells and whistles, animate these spaces although the occasional roar can be heard and video unicorn spotted.
Rooms are organized in different ways--but some are organized by animals:  stags, wolves, dogs, and and bears.  In many rooms there's an exploratory cabinet, beautifully made, in keeping with the traditional furnishings of the room,  filled with skulls, art, and more.  Contemporary artists encourage the visitor to consider--and reconsider--our relationship with animals.  Historic works of art by Ruebens, Brueghel and others and artifacts create surprising juxtapositions.  
What does it mean when we encounter bar-tending tigers or human legs upon a dining table?   In each room,  clipboard labels (available in English as well) explain humans' changing views of this particular animal.  The museum was busy, but not crowded on the day I was there--and I saw looks of discovery on everyone's faces--and very nice guards who were very willing to interact with French speaking visitors,  pulling open drawers and encouraging conversation.
How were the staff inspired to create the magical unicorn room or the small room with the ceiling covered in owl feathers to create owls staring down at you?  They worked with contemporary artists as an integral part of exhibit re-installations, but they also drew inspiration from the founders and the places they lived and loved. A little web research led me to an site where Claude d’Anthenaise, Chief Curator of the museum, described the museum as a place where:
the staged atmosphere [is] tending to give visitors an unusual experience during which they feel like they have entered the home of a mysterious host or the den of a wolf, deer or wild boar, which is due back at any moment. Kept in a state of expectation, spectators remain on their guard, as attentive as they would be if they were in a forest, watching for any sign that may reveal the presence of a wild animal, which most certainly observes them from its hide-out.
What an inventive way to put us, the visitor, on guard, to make us attentive and watchful, contemplating the meaning of our relationships to the natural world.  And how great to be surprised.