Building Up and Tearing Down

This past week at the Phillips Collection offered me opportunities to try new projects as well as continue previous ones. While I built up my comfort level for working with the museum website, I also got to help take down an exhibition that had become rather familiar to me during my time at the Phillips. These juxtaposed projects showed me that at any given moment, a museum is changing as much as it is remaining consistent. In addition to my larger projects this week, I also got to sit in on a meeting with the museum director, modify an informational cardholder, and even take a friend on a tour of the museum. This week’s opportunities to build up, tear down, and everything in between proved that there’s never a dull day in museum work.

First thing on Monday morning, before beginning a day of creating Sunday Concert event pages, I got to help direct actors and videographers through the museum to record a series of plays based off of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, one of the Phillips Collection’s best-known exhibits. While these plays had originally been performed a while ago, the museum loved them so much that it decided that the actors should be filmed so that they could be shown to a wider audience. One of the most exciting parts of this project was that the actors got to perform in the same room as the series’ panels, which connected the still artwork of the paintings with the active work performed by the actors. Although I only got to usher in the project’s participants that morning, I loved getting to see the preparations behind a video that will help viewers around the world connect with some of the artwork at the Phillips.

As previously mentioned, I dedicated most of my time early on in the week to finishing creating event pages for the upcoming Sunday Concert series for the museum’s website. I learned how to work more efficiently with the photos I was using for both the display icon and the event page’s slideshow, which made me feel more tech savvy. When all of the event pages were developed, I felt both proud and useful since I had picked up a new skill while also saving the Phillips Music department a good deal of time.

After building up for the upcoming concert season in the beginning of the week, I spend the end of the week taking things down. The now closed George Condo exhibition, The Way I Think, included over 200 of the artist’s notebooks from throughout his career stacked or opened at random within a large glass case. For my part in the deinstallation, I had to sort and organize chronologically the notebooks and their corresponding folders which would shelter them in boxes for their journey back to the artist’s studio. While sorting the 200+ folders seemed tedious, it was a necessary step that proved completely worthwhile when I got to handle the notebooks that fit into each one. Working with one of the museum’s curators, I got to flip through notebooks of all shapes and sizes filled with equally varied images by a leading American contemporary artist, it was easily one of the coolest things I’ve done all summer. Yet working with the curator also gave me an up-close look at the deinstallation process, in which detailed records and communication must be kept to ensure that every piece of an exhibition returns to its proper home.

In the same vein of “impressive things I got to do this week,” I got to take notes with my supervisor at a meeting between the Phillips Collection’s director and two prominent administrators from the University of Maryland. It was fascinating to watch the heads of two partnering educational institutions discuss their plans for the future, focusing on the topic of diversity. The meeting was truly uplifting in nature, as these driving educational forces developed concrete plans on expanding their outreach to cultivate a community for inclusiveness. After the meeting, my supervisor and I compared notes to make sure that neither of us had missed anything important before sending off a finished list to my supervisor’s boss who had planned on being at the meeting yet ultimately could not attend. This small project felt useful to me as I got a glimpse of the futures that some museums are striving for while also providing a practical service for one of the museum’s top administrators.

Just after attending the meeting with my supervisor, I got to help out with a more hands-on project in which I literally got to build something. The problem: informational membership cards were too short for their cardholder; the solution: an ingenious apparatus made out of recycled materials. My “ingenious apparatus” was an old manila envelope which I cut down to fit inside the cardholder and then folded into a rectangular prism to provide a raised platform on top of which the membership cards could sit. While the project itself and its execution were fairly hilarious, I loved getting to be inventive and felt proud of my creation when I saw it in action in one of the museum’s galleries.

What made me even more proud of my creative cardholder solution was the fact that I got to show it off to my friend when I gave her a brief tour of the museum on Friday. My friend, a recent W&M graduate (congrats class of 2017!!), was visiting from Chicago, so I was really excited to see her and show her some of the work that I have been doing this summer. I got to walk her around the permanent collection and show her where I work in the Center, introducing her to my supervisor who was eager to hear what my friend thought about the museum. Giving my friend a tour granted me the opportunity to show off all that I’ve learned this summer, but it also gave me new insights as I experienced the museum through the eyes of a first-time visitor.