For those of you who picture a career in museums as dull and full of dust, my I present to you the Museum at Bethel Woods, which is located at the original site of the Woodstock Festival. Contrary to popular belief, the institution is less about drugs, sex, and rock and roll and more about the cultural, social, and political upheavals of the 1960’s – but neither topic is boring! The Bethel Woods Center for the Performing Arts, located about 2.5 hours south of Cooperstown in Bethel, New York contains a concert arena and state of the art interpretative center. Ten of my classmates and I met with Wade Lawrence, director of the museum, and chatted with him about everything from exhibit layouts to career choices. My colleague, Emily Lang, had been a curatorial intern this summer at Bethel and was excited to show us around the facility, which includes a permanent exhibit, that explores the 60’s chronologically and leads up to a discussion of Woodstock, as well as a temporary exhibition space that currently has a photo show about communes entitled Across the Great Divide.
Wade, who was a guest speaker in our Introduction to Museums course last fall, is always a great person to chat about the field with. During our visit he gave us emerging museum professionals two big pieces of advice. The first was that we would know we were in the right work environment when our bosses and colleagues knew to play to our strengths. Passionate about something? Talented at something? Your job should realize those skills and let you run with them. The second piece of advice was to not be a “hardass”. I particularly enjoyed his explanation of this one! Basically, he said that the museum business is all about people – and that if you are nice to people, get to know them on a personal level, and are honest with those people you interact with that you will go far. Treating everything like a business deal and trying to make this a business world won’t get you very far in museums. That’s not to say that things should be unprofessional – but if you put people as the focal point of your work, you’ll find that you can succeed with ease. I’ve made it a new goal to find a job that I love as much as Wade loves his work at Bethel. Not only does he get to wear tie dye ties, he gets to spend his days interacting with people he enjoys and a message that he is passionate about!
Here are a few photos from the visit: