Sunday, December 13, 2020

What a Year! Need a Mentor for 2021?

For seven years, I posted an annual call inviting applications for someone in the museum/archives/preservation fields to work with me in a year-long mentorship.  It was an incredible privilege to get to know one or two new people each year.  The mentees have been graduate students, young professionals, mid-career professionals; educators, curators, directors, archivists, and more.  I'm so happy that I'm still in touch with many of them. This year alone one got back in touch with book publishing news; another to ask a question about approaching a particular job and another to share her own progress at her museums.  During their mentorship year, they lived or worked all over the world:  Cambodia, Denmark, the UK, New Zealand, and of course the United States. (Shout-out to all of you!)

Tania Said, a mentee in 2017, shared her reflections from the perspective of a few years:

Having a year of structured mentoring with Linda Norris was a window into seeing what I didn't know. It was a chance to more closely examine the contrast in the museum field and the many shades of grey in between. She helped me become more intentional in my museum practice while preparing me for my next chapter. Our monthly conversations helped me grow in my work and kept me grounded at the same time; in fact, I attribute my career change to the seeds we sowed. Even today, Linda continues to be a supportive and trusted colleague.

Last year I took the year off.  I didn't have a particular reason but just felt it was time for a break.  2020 had surprises in store for all of us. After some reflection time, I'm happy to announce the return of my small mentorship program for 2021.  It seems like a great time for all of us to expand our networks, think together, and plan for change. I hope a chance to sit down, virtually speaking, with me once a month might be of use to some of you.  It’s a two-way street for me--from mentees I have learned to look at museum work from different perspectives;  I have learned about specific work in different contexts; and about the ways each of us approach challenges and opportunities and think about next chapters.

About Me
I've been a sporadic blogger this year, so for those of you who might be coming here for the first time--here's a bit more about me. I’m a white-cis-gender woman--I use she/her/hers. Currently, I am Senior Specialist, Methodology and Practice at  the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience where I have worked for four years. In addition, I teach in the online Museum Studies and Cultural Heritage Programs at Johns Hopkins University.  Before joining Sites of Conscience, I spent a considerable amount of time as an independent museum professional, working with museums and historic sites in the United States and Canada.  More than a decade ago, I was a Fulbright Scholar to Ukraine, a place that continues to engage me on so many levels as history is made and re-thought.   With my dear colleague Rainey Tisdale, I'm a co-author of Creativity in Museum Practice and work to embed creative practice in museum work every day.  If you want to do more than read about me, you can watch my interview with Paul Orselli or listen to me chat about Sites of Conscience with Dan Snow at History Hit.  And of course, check out previous entries here. 

What Does the Mentorship Look Like?
We'll schedule monthly conversations at times convenient for us both. You can apply for the mentorship no matter where you live or work or what stage of your career you're in. I'll expect you to be both a good listener and a good questioner--and be willing to look at yourself deeply. I'll ask for one or two blog posts over the year on deadlines we mutually set and of course, I also expect active participation and questioning when we talk. In addition to the monthly conversations, I'll provide feedback, introductions as I can, and loads and loads of opinions! 

What Makes a Good Mentee?
I'm interested in people who have entered the field from different directions and who bring different perspectives to the work.  I particularly want to encourage BIPOC students and colleagues to apply.  The cultural field has deep work to do to ensure that our work is equitable, inclusive, and just and one of my goals is to contribute.  For colleagues outside the US, sadly, I only speak English, but you can be from anywhere in the world because we can always work out the time zones! I  know that many of you may be out of work and trying to figure out what's next. You do not have to be working in the field right now to apply. Applicants should be curious and willing to engage in conversations that are sometimes challenging (for both of us).  If you want to learn a specific skill--say, how to be a consultant, or how to catalog an object, this is probably not the opportunity for you.  But if you work, or want to work, in any aspect of museums, cultural heritage, archives, historic preservation or memory work, consider applying.   

Okay, I'm In! How do I Apply?
If you're interested, send me an email (linda at  with the subject line "mentorship: [lastname]" by January 6, 2021, that includes two attachments: your resume and answers to the following questions:
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What questions would you like to discuss with me during the year?
  • What was an early creative act? (I mean, not in work, but early, as in childhood)
  • In terms of your work life or studies, what learnings will you take forward from 2020 and what aspect of museum or cultural heritage work could be jettisoned?

How Do I Decide?
Because this is my own individual project, I get to make my own decisions, sometimes with the counsel of a few trusted colleagues. For instance, I'm probably not very interested in you if your key questions are about becoming a consultant.  I want to be challenged and intrigued, I don't care about your Meyers-Briggs type or your grades in graduate school. I appreciate people who don't take themselves too seriously.  I love curious people. I want to get off that Zoom call every month ready to think more about your work and my work and the ways we can make change together. Museums have a larger role to play in this complex world--but only if we dig in and get at it.

Special thanks to Mia Jackson for her thoughts on this post.