January came and went quickly. At RK&A, we kicked off the year with a retreat. Our main goal was to spend time together in one physical location–a rarity for our small office of seven. We needed some bonding time… Thus, we participated in the personal response “tour.” My first experience with the “tour” was back in 2010 after reading Ray Williams’ article “Honoring the Personal Response: A Strategy for Serving the Public Hunger for Connection” in the Journal of Museum Education. Williams describes a “tour” experience in which participants draw a question from a box populated by the “tour” guide and are “invited to look around a designated suite of galleries for about fifteen minutes to find a work that resonates with their guiding question” (page 95). With two of my colleagues, we tried out the “tour” on a visit to the Phillips Collection. It is one of my most memorable museum experiences.
My prompt was to “Find a work of art that makes you feel proud,” and I really struggled with it. Pride holds many negative connotations for me, which led me to pick a photograph of a train with a huge plume of steam rising from the engine. I shared that pride makes me think of boastful people who are “full of hot air” or “blowing smoke.” The work of art also made me think about how American pride in building a national railway blinded people to the atrocities incurred by laborers. My colleague who had written the prompt said that she would never have connected that photograph to pride. When she wrote the prompt, she was thinking about pride in her heritage and how it motivates her to be a better person. Her reflection on my same question revealed to me how different our thinking is—but not in a bad way. It just reminded me that we are all driven by different experiences and beliefs that shape who we are and how we act. In that way, I think the exercise strengthened our working relationship because I could empathize with her more and understand her better as a person with unique experiences different from my own.
I was eager to try out a personal response “tour” with my colleagues on our recent retreat. Unfortunately, illness prevented me from sharing in the experience this time, but I was excited that they found it enriching, too. For this “tour,” everyone responded to the same three questions or prompts, which included “Find a work of art that represents what excites you about working at RK&A.” Get to know our staff by checking out their responses below!
“Embrace” by John D. Graham immediately stood out as the work of art that represents what excites me about working at RK&A. It makes me think about how we all work together– embracing one another’s ideas, concerns, and supporting each other during (some very) busy times! I love knowing that I work with such a smart, dedicated, and supportive team; one that embraces any and every opportunity to learn something new (from museum visitors, our clients, and each other). Plus, the word “embrace” reminds me so much of another part of our work which I love–helping our clients welcome data with open arms. When I look at this work of art, I see RK&A and our clients “embracing the messiness” and stepping forward into the unknown together, ready to absorb and learn from whatever comes our way.
We were standing in the Music Room of the Phillips House when asked to consider this question. and my answer occurred to me immediately. The house itself, an elaborate Georgian Revival home, is a work of art, and it contains the means to inspiration and learning for visitors. I think of RK&A in a similar light. RK&A is the container within which we not only support museums to achieve their desired impact with visitors, but through our work, we are also always learning and often feel inspired.
I selected Anslem Kiefer’s “Dein blondes Haar, Margarethe” as the work of art that makes me think about what excites me to work at RK&A. At first glance, it may seem an odd choice; it’s a dark, brooding, abstract piece and not a piece of art I would normally stop to take a deeper look at. However, since I started at RK&A, I have found myself pushing to dig deeper and reflect on both my own practice in evaluation and how I can help our museum partners achieve meaningful impact. This means stopping and taking the time to reflect on things we might have otherwise overlooked and to tease out the details of a messy idea. Look more closely at Kiefer’s piece and you will start to see some details missed at first glance—two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and strands of blonde hair hidden beneath the streaks of black paint. What more can we find with a pause for deeper reflection?
I chose “Little Machine Shop” to represent what excites me about working at RK&A. What first struck me were the colors; the blues and greens reminded me of the colors in our logo and documents. Then after reading the title and looking closer, I realized that RK&A is a little machine shop. In order for us to get out work done, we must work together and work together well. As a new team member, the idea of being a part of a small highly functioning team excites me. And with words like “intentional” and “systematic” floating around my head from the previous day’s retreat exercises, I felt that the geometric shapes that make up the work and the idea of a machine resonated.
I chose Paul Klee’s Efflorescence as the work of art that most reminds me of my work at RK&A because of two qualities it possesses (for me): surprise and delight. I was first surprised by the piece as I exited a gallery full of what I considered rather dull art; something compelled me to turn around and look back, and there was Efflorescence, a small work on an adjoining wall in a corridor. I was then delighted by the pulsating colors and delicate composition which seemed to vibrate with liveliness. Even after 16 years with RK&A I am continuously surprised and delighted by my work. Sometimes it’s the interaction with a client who has an ah-ha moment based on results of a study, and sometimes it’s my own ah-ha as something emerges from the data. Other times it’s an encounter with a curator or scientist who shares their passions about an esoteric idea. And oftentimes, it’s simply knowing that here I am again in another sacred, significant, or historic space that houses and cares for precious objects; I am honored to be a part of that.
As you can see, the RK&A team is smart, thoughtful, sensitive, and courageous. Selecting works that seem scary or prompt one to dig deeper is akin to having a curious mind and feeling secure enough within this container that we call the RK&A office to move forward methodically and systematically into our learning zones. As evidenced from people’s descriptions, learning is at the heart of what we do.
Thank you to the Phillips Collection for being such an inspiring place! All images are from the Phillips Collection.