In March, Intentional Museum announced it’s first blog competition, asking students to reflect on the following question: Through your intentional practice, how do you help enrich the lives of others? Below you will find the winning post from Faithe Miller McCreery. Faithe is a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle where she is a member of the Museology class of 2015.
I’m a collections girl. At this point in my career, most of my professional and volunteer experience has centered on digitizing, cataloging, rehousing, and otherwise maintaining artifacts and archives. This nearly always involves entering the museum through a back door, taking a staff-only stairwell down to the basement, and cozying up to a collection for some quality one-on-one time.
Part of me loves this. I appreciate having a private little space where I can hunker down and concentrate on projects with few distractions. But getting into the collections basement routine can also be very isolating. At times I find myself developing a sort of artifact-based myopia: I am very attentive to the work at hand, but I begin to forget why I’ve chosen to work with collections in the first place. When I’m alone in a lab with a roll of film negatives, I have to remind myself that I’m not in this career for the negatives themselves: I chose museums because I want to inspire, educate, and empower people.
As an intern for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle Unit, my responsibilities include occasionally manning the Visitor Services desk at the front of the museum. While I’m there, I greet incoming visitors, direct them to specific exhibits, and just generally chat about any number of subjects that may arise. Technically, staffing the front desk does not fall under the auspices of either the Interpretation or Curatorial departments toward which my internship is tailored. My time there arose purely to fulfill a staffing gap at the museum, and it was a task that I initially dreaded as taking attention away from my “actual” duties. The truth is, though, interacting directly with visitors has become something of a respite from the quiet and isolated collections environment where I spend the majority of my time. Visitor Services has become a part of my work that I quite look forward to.
When I see the unbridled enthusiasm of children who just can’t wait to explore local history, listen to older people share stories of their own relatives’ experiences panning for gold, or welcome a group of tourists into their first cultural institution in Seattle, I develop a far greater appreciation for the work that I do with collections. Interacting with visitors serves as a much-needed reminder for me that ultimately, collections lose their purpose if they become unbridled from the institutional mission. The work that I do with collections occurs not in spite of visitors, but for them –and having an eye on the front desk helps me understand the needs, questions, and concerns that I should be addressing while I toil away in Curatorial. It may seem paradoxical, but I’m so glad to have learned that the more time I spend outside of the basement, the more I appreciate the significance of the work that I do while I’m there. Great things happen in the basement –but let’s not discount the ground level, too.