Saturday, March 20, 2021

Meet the 2021 Mentees!

I'm already several months into great conversations with the 2021 mentees, so it's long past time for me to share them.  To begin. however, my deep thanks go to all of you who took the time to apply.  It's wonderful to read about your work, your hopes, and ways you're going to change the museum field--and the world.  Thank you all!  The choice is always very difficult, but here are the folks I'm in conversation with this year.

Anna Stratton is completing her MA in History Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program this semester.   She comes to museum work from a bit of a surprising place--the cooperative grocery industry.  We've already had some great chats about the ways in which that work--focused on together, the public, the workers, and the mission--can translate into museum work.  Although she was first attracted to the museum field through textile conservation, as a maker herself, she found a shift underway in her thinking.  When I asked applicants to respond to the question, "What are you passioante about?"  she responded:
I am passionate about many things, but it’s no coincidence that I am embarking on a career in the museum world just as conversations about racial justice abound. I am most passionate about racial equity. As a mixed white and Latina woman who grew up in a diverse city, I have always been keenly aware of racial differences, maybe due to the regular “What are you?” question directed at me throughout my life. I have straddled the uncomfortable grey area of being a person of color with a lot of white privilege for as long as I can be honest I didn’t realize what a non-negotiable this type of advocacy was for me until a few years ago, perhaps coinciding with…ahem…an emboldened white supremacist state. My reaffirmed commitment to antiracism blossomed simultaneously with a deep understanding that I needed to change careers.

Needless to say, it's a tough time to be finishing up graduate school from home and job hunting at the same time.   Anna's interested in development work and is currently interning remotely with Eastern State Penitentiary, along with working on a virtual exhibit on sugar cane workers in Puerto Rico as part of her coursework.  What's the change she's working towards in the field? "It seems so clear and unambiguous to me what museums must do, but first they must outgrow the idea that they are essentially separate from their communities. There might be a lot of problematic history to uncover, but this, too, must be museum work."

From a mentee who's going to school less than an hour from my house, to one much further away.  Anais Walsdorf is currently based in London.  What is she passionate about? 

I’m most passionate about amplifying voices and histories that have been and continue to be silenced, especially colonial histories and their present-day iterations and legacies. I spent most of my childhood growing up on a small island in the Philippines. In the past two decades, I’ve watched how tourism and development have caused immense damage to the environment and the local and indigenous communities. From an early age I was aware of this and the role of money and power in how quickly my home was changing.

Anais is a Visitor Experience Assistant at the Wellcome Collection, a position that has maintained throughout the pandemic lockdowns.  She's worked on a new label putting Napoleon's toothbrush in the context of colonialism as part of a larger project of rethinking permanent exhibits and is also working on team crafting guidelines for supporting researchers using collections related to trauma.  Pre-lockdown, she was also a Gallery Supervisor at the Migration Museum in London and a volunteer with the Museum of British Colonialism.

What would Anias jettison from museums?  "we absolutely need to abandon traditional understandings of what a museum is, and any arguments keeping Western museums from beginning processes of repatriation and restitution."  Another focus of her interest is that the pandemic laid bare, as it did for so many,  "the precarious position of Front of House workers, contractors, and cleaners, despite their being essential to the working of institutions and being the most high-risk."

In her application, Anais mentioned how much she missed the ways in which teamwork, those informal conversations, really lead to creative ideas and actions.  Me too.  And every year, this small mentor program provides me with new ideas and inspiration, widening my circle of colleagues.  Thanks Anna and Anais!