Today, while eating falafel, I re-discovered why I went into the museum field. Yes, you read correctly. Today, while eating falafel, I re-discovered why I went into this field. No, it was not the falafel that sparked this breakthrough. This is a story of ups and downs, of frustrations and of successes – and the falafel was just in the right place at the right time.
Once upon a time, a born educator took a leap out of her comfort zone and into the exhibitions department of the Field Museum. She tried desperately to balance time spent researching at a computer and time spent with other humans beings. Thankfully, she was giving the task of managing ten undergraduate interns throughout the summer. This meant a lot of time spent mentoring and interacting with a group of other learners. But management, she learned, was a bit trickier than she previously imagined. “What do you mean interns aren’t all graduate level over-achievers?!” she thought! Some days, iced coffee was about all that carried her through. Sue approved.
Slowly but surely, she found herself missing the education department she had left the month before. In an attempt to remedy this, she asked her internship supervisor to put her in contact with the head of the museum’s Digital Learning initiative. She got a list of dates to come and observe a teen program, Digital Planet. Re-energized, she decided to continue searching for projects that could combine both education and exhibitions development. One morning, she ran into her boss’s boss in the elevator. Not only did he comment on the carefully arranged rainbow colored highlighters on her backpack, but he asked her to work on a new evaluation project. The Romance of Ants, a small temporary exhibit done in a graphic novel format, highlights an assistant curator who researches ants at the Field. The head of exhibition development even offered to let her write the whole summative evaluation survey herself!
The project prompted questions about how an exhibit can generate a meaningful experience for visitors. She started pondering about her own time spent at the museum and what the phrase “meaningful experience” really meant. Was she having a meaningful experience in the education department and in the exhibits department during her internship? What makes a person change their perception, think differently, or have a personal connection to an exhibit or an experience? How do you evaluate that in a survey? These thoughts swirled in her head as she continued her routine of timing and tracking visitors, reading reports, and coaching interns.
On a whim, she decided to attend a networking event at the Shedd Aquarium with a co-worker. It included a tour of the special exhibition of jelly fish, time meeting exhibitors from around the city, and a seminar on technology. The meeting, sponsored by the Chicago Museum Exhibitor’s Group, with talks by leading technology developers in the museum field, left her feeling inspired. The discussion, entitled Beyond QR Codes really made her think about engagement, education, exhibitions, and how we define and re-define these ideas in cultural institutions.
Now, you might be asking, how in the world does this relate to falafel?! At the end of her week, she meandered down to a special I Dig Tanzania presentation by the teens in an education program. After introducing herself to the head of the division, she was invited to a lunch with the staff and students. While talking educational philosophy and technology engagement with a few museum educators, she looked around and realized that each and every one of her diverse and seemingly random experiences – in exhibits, in evaluation, in management, in education, in technology, in networking – were leading her to a greater understanding of what it means to be an emerging museum professional. And with a sigh and a bite of falafel, she began to realize that despite her lack of sleep and surplus of questions, her time interning at the Field is propelling her in the right direction.
To be continued…