Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Weekly Jobs Roundup

Hi friends! Here’s the weekly jobs roundup for September 16th:

Northeast

Research Coordinator [Massachusetts Historical Society / Boston, MA]

Curator of Exhibitions [Nantucket Historical Association / Nantucket, MA]

Executive Director [Southern Vermont Arts Center / Manchester, VT]

Engagement Manager [Naumkeag, The Trustees / Stockbridge, MA]

Interpretation and Education Program Developer [The Bostonian Society / Boston, MA]

Mid-Atlantic

Museum Exhibit Technician [Dumbarton Oaks Research Library / Washington, DC]

Communications Coordinator [Studio Museum / New York, NY]

Collections Assistant [Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Pocantico Center / Tarrytown, NY]

Registrar [Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum / St. Michaels, MD]

Curator [Salem County Historical Society / Salem, NJ]

Southeast

Director of Inclusion [American Alliance of Museums / Arlington, VA]

Director of Museum Affairs [Drayton Hall Preservation Trust / Charleston, SC]

Director and Chief Curator [Blaffer Art Museum / Houston, TX]

Curatorial Researcher [University of Texas / San Antonio, TX]

Coordinator of Museum Interpretation [High Museum of Art / Atlanta, GA]

Midwest

Preservation and Digitization Strategist [Ohio State University / Columbus, OH]

Associate Director of Visitor Experience [National Veterans Memorial and Museum / Columbus, OH]

Director [Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum / University Center, MI]

Senior Exhibit Designer [Minnesota Historical Society / St. Paul, MN]

Curator, Global Contemporary Art [The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art / Kansas City, MO]

West

Site Manager, Fulton Mansion [Texas Historical Commission / Rockland, TX]

Executive Director [Willamette Heritage Center / Salem, OR]

Guest Curator [Anchorage Museum Association / Anchorage, AK]

Manager of Docent Programs [Skirball Cultural Center / Los Angeles, CA]

Museum Curator [Churchill County Museum / Fallon, NV]

The Problem with Plastics

two plastic flamingos with a plastic bag caught on them

We’ve all heard the dire news. We’ve seen the straw drawn out of the turtle’s nose. We carry our reusable bags, whether or not our town has outlawed them. We know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In ways large and small, the people of the world are grappling with the looming environmental disaster of plastics. But we know that the issue is complex. Plastic straws are a necessity for many members of the disabled community. Plastic treasures, from the earliest celluloid jewelry to the first artificial heart to myriad acrylic paintings and fiberglass sculptures, fill our museums. For museums, the problem with plastics threatens to destroy a century of treasures.

The New York Times recently detailed the issue facing the conservators of many institutions, including those at the Smithsonian, struggling to save Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit from the moon landing. The suit includes twenty-one different types of plastics, all deteriorating at different paces. The suit has been taken off display to arrest its decomposition, but the damage has already been done to other historic suits. In those, the neoprene found within internal layers of the suit has turned brittle and shattered. At the Smithsonian and many other art, science, and history museums around the world, conservationists and scientists are racing to figure out the best ways to preserve and repair artifacts that, despite having a half-life of a thousand years, seem to have a useful life span of less than a hundred years.

The first sign that a plastic object is deteriorating is usually yellowing or microfracturing of the object. While unsightly and inconvenient, this is essentially a warning sign that worse conditions are coming. Offgassing, shrinking, and other kinds of visible degradation are soon to follow. In creating plastics, molecules are arranged and frozen in an inefficient manner. Over time they regroup, separating the object itself into brittle structures with white powdery materials or sticky substances emerging. Some earlier types of film create acetic acid in the course of deterioration, causing what archivists call “vinegar syndrome”. As with film, this short shelf life of plastics is also affecting archivists who are rushing to save information stored on physical media. As the space and time needed to store content shrank, the amount of information saved exploded, resulting in a surfeit of information that needs to be evaluated and conserved in a relatively short amount of time. Whether cassette tape, CD, flash drive, or physical server, plastics are integral to the modern world’s ability to save itself for posterity and renewing the lifespan of plastic objects with information stored on them requires money and time that many institutions unfortunately do not have.

In the short and medium term, trainings on how to deal with plastic should become more widespread and additional funds will need to be allocated to deal with issues of plastics conservation and preservation of information and objects currently stored via plastics. However, the long-term state of preservation is going to require new thinking about how to display and discuss a culture who so thoroughly relied on an object with such a limited lifespan. Future historians will also need to explain why such reliance on a temporary material with harmful environmental effects was considered a desirable solution for twentieth century humans. The sooner those conversations commence, the more useful they may be in mitigating culture loss and environmental damage.

Weekly Jobs Round-up

 

Greetings Readers! Here are the job listings for the week of September 2nd!

Northeast

Mirken Curator of Education and Engagement [Colby College Museum of Arts, Waterville, ME]

Director of Public Programs [Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven, CT]

Education and Interpretation Intern {Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site, Brookline, MA]

Education Associate, Traveling Programs [Museum of Science, Boston, MA]

Education Manager [USS Constitution, Boston, MA]

Head of Read House and Garden Educational Programs  [Delaware Historical Society, New Castle, DE]

Museum Teacher [Historic New England, Boston, MA]

 

Mid-Atlantic

Digital Producer and Content Specialist [AAM, Arlington, VA]

Collections Assistant [Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Tarrytown, NY]

Visitor Services Manager [The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ]

Exhibition Preparator [The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ]

Assistant Educator [Colgate University Picker Art Gallery, Hamilton, NY]

Cultural Program Associate [Meridian International Center, Washington, D.C.]

Southeast

Museum Exhibitions and Program Director [Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage, Ridgeland, SC]

Dianne Woest Fellowship in the Arts and Humanities [The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA]

Coordinator of Public Programs [High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA]

Midwest

Curatorial Fellow [Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma City, OK]

Education Coordinator [South Dakota State Agriculture Heritage Museum, Brookings, SD]

 

West

Development Associate [Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA]

Director of Education and Programs [Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO]

Docent Educator {The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, CA]

 

The Burning of the Museo Nacional of Brazil

This week, tragedy struck the museum community and humankind with the burning of the Museo Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 200 hundred year old museum, housed in the what was once the royal palace, has lost more than 90% of it’s 20 million object collection. While reports have come in that some objects such as Luzia, the oldest human fossil found in the Americas may have survived the devastation, those lost to the flames are among priceless objects and specimen that represent an enormous loss for not just the Brazilian people but human cultural heritage as a whole. Among those lost are nearly all of the 5 million specimen in the insect collection, roughly 700 Egyptian artifacts, a fresco from Pompeii, a large number of holotype specimen, dinosaur fossils, a Royal Hawaiian feather cloak, pre-contact artifacts, and recordings of now extinct indigenous languages.

The loss is monumental and irreplaceable. However, this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a loss of this magnitude will affect our natural and cultural history. Akin, to the burning of the library in Alexandria, a symbol for the loss of cultural knowledge, this fire was the result of decreasing museum budgets, neglect, and a declining care for our natural and cultural histories. Last year the museum received an operating  budget of just $13,000 for South America’s largest natural history museum. Staff and curators were reduced to online crowdsourcing campaigns to raise the money necessary to provide the most basic care and when firefighters arrived on the scene to fight the flames they found that both hydrants in front of the museum were dry.

While neglect and lack of funding was at issue for the Museo Nacional in Rio, even museums with large operating budgets, strong disaster preparedness, and Emergency Response Plans can be at risk. This past year the Getty Museum in Los Angeles faced risk as the Skirball fire moved closer and closer, and many museums have been damaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters in recent years. No amount of emergency planning can fully protect a collection and with hurricane season back upon us it is important for museums to look for other ways to prepare for the worst. For myself, this issue shows the importance of digitizing collections. If the Brazilian Museum’s indigenous language recordings had been digitized and stored off site or in a cloud they would not be lost today. While a digital sample does not replace the actual object or specimen it is highly preferable to have at least a digital record than none at all. The day after the fire Wikipedia began a crowdsourcing campaign to collect images of objects in the museum from museum visitors to help investigators and curators piece together what has been lost and to attempt to keep the museums 20 million specimen collection in memory. Unfortunately, we may never know just what has been lost to the flames.

How has the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa Addressed its Lack of Diversity?

In September of last year, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) – the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world – opened its doors on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. Hailed as “a new beacon of art” and “Africa’s most important museum opening in a century,” MOCAA promised its visitors an accessible and engaging space in which to enjoy one hundred galleries of installations, photography, paintings, and video works on view. Although its collection represents an impressive breadth of global art, and the artists represented are queer, female, and international, MOCAA received criticism for its lack of diversity among its high-ranking staff (most of whom are white and male). Considering the Museum will be celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, how has it addressed this problem…if at all?

At MOCAA, boutique lighting, white walls, and spaced out exhibitions provide an aesthetic experience that facilitate art viewing, encouraging visitors to stay for hours and to become lost in the great art before them. From Yinka Shonibare’s film installations that reflect on colonial practices, to sculptures by Swazi artist Nandipha Mntambo that explore the notion of binaries, MOCAA poignantly displays art from critically acclaimed artists. The collection, in addition to being beautiful, is worldly, intellectual, and relevant to today’s ever-changing political climate.

As a result of this universal approach, the canon of African art history is slowly widening and shifting to a more inclusive perspective. Despite these positives, the “overarching amount of white male voices” among its staff and Board of Directors becomes problematic when we consider the fact that only twenty-six years ago black South Africans were not even allowed to enter museums. Apartheid, the discriminatory racial classification system that severely restricted black South Africans’ rights to own land, vote, or visit certain areas, existed throughout the country from 1948-1991. Although apartheid has been abolished, its effects of systemic racism divisions still linger.

In May, MOCAA faced even more criticism when Mark Coetzee, executive director and chief curator (and personal friend of museum founder Jochen Zeitz), resigned due to professional misconduct allegations. Azu Nwagbogu, MOCAA’s photography curator, replaced him as the new director and head curator. Nwagbogu is also the editor-in-chief of Art Base Africa, an online contemporary African art journal, and has been the director of the African Artists’ Foundation since 2007. With these outstanding qualifications, it makes me wonder why he wasn’t hired as chief curator in the first place. In this role, Nwagbogu will also oversee the Museum’s curating training program, which trains twenty aspiring curators from around the continent “to work specifically in the context of their communities.”

I think there is hope for change with its youth curating program. After all, the Museum is still in its infancy; at the time of this writing it has only been open to the public for one year. With the criticisms it has received regarding its “whiteness” in a country that has experienced ongoing intense racial divides, I hope that in the coming year, and under the new direction of Nwagbogu, MOCAA will mindfully make decisions to prioritize inclusion and diversity among its staff, Board, and program efforts.

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