Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Job Opportunity — Executive Assistant at the Mark Twain House and Museum

See below for an exciting opportunity ideal for a recent Museum Studies graduate, shared with us by Tufts Museum Studies faculty member Ken Turino!


The Mark Twain House & Museum – Executive Assistant

The Executive Assistant is a Full-time (non-Exempt) new position that supports the Executive Director and the Board of Trustees. This person is a crucial link between those two entities, providing communication, logistical support, and adding a crucial strategic eye towards the ebb and flow of the organization.

As the ED is also the chief fundraiser to the organization, this position will assist in various development activities in collaboration with the ED, the Development Director, and the Board President.

  • Maintains flow of information and work into and out of the ED’s Office.
  • Maintains all board and trustee records.
  • Coordinate Board-related special projects or events.
  • May assist Finance office at peak times.
  • As regards HR — Reviews applications, conducts initial screening of applicants in collaboration with various hiring managers.
  • Maintains records of board giving and works closely with the Director of Development to solicit annual board gifts.
  • Works with the Development Department on the annual campaign.
  • May act as a relationship manager with certain donors.

The successful candidate will have a Bachelor’s degree with relevant work experience. They should enjoy working with people and partnering with volunteers. Strong organizational skills are a must and the candidate should have the ability to prioritize and organize multiple activities. The executive assistant will possess accuracy and attention to detail with the ability to work effectively under pressure and meet deadlines. Good verbal and written communication skills are important as is the ability to work effectively with minimal supervision, and the ability to treat confidential information with appropriate discretion. Proficiency with Zoom, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, and other virtual meeting platforms will be expected.

The Executive Assistant must have the ability to work successfully with all people in contact with the organization without regard to race, color, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, national origins, or disabilities.

This is a 35 hour per week position that works on site. Some evening and weekend hours may be required. Candidates will be required to submit a writing sample or to complete a brief proofreading/editing test. Must have ability to climb stairs and lift up to 30 pounds, and possess a valid driver’s license and access to a car.

To apply: Send a resume and letter in confidence to Michael Campbell, Human Resources, at Michael.Campbell@marktwainhouse.org.

Disbanding Docent Programs – the Art Institute of Chicago Faces Backlash

Reflecting to the trends of current museum practices, institutions are determined to be more inclusive and diverse across their staff members and the communities they serve. Having staff members working together as a team from various backgrounds can result in a functional unit that is capable of helping the organization to fulfill its mission statement. To facilitate this, one area of focus for change became the museums’ volunteer educator program.

The Art Institute of Chicago

Unpaid guides, known as docents, are integral part of cultural institutions’ daily operations. Before an art enthusiast can become a docent, they have to participate in trainings provided by the museum staff, to become familiar with the collection and the values and policies of the workplace they are committed to represent. They are involved in education and programming as their primary role is to deliver free guided tours for visitors, however, their job may vary by venue. They might also perform administrative tasks, offer their services in collection care and oftentimes, information desks are run entirely by unpaid staff under the supervision of colleagues of the visitor services department.

According to Robin Pogrebin’s article in the New York Times from last October, since the establishment of these programs, the corps of volunteer guides consisted traditionally of white, retired women – many of them former teachers with the knowledge of several languages – who had the time and could afford to work for little or no money. In times of a cultural paradigm shift that is happening in recent decades, this system no longer seems to be sustainable and it is facing more and more criticism from the side both of museum professionals and audiences.

A recent case that demonstrates the unsustainability of the system, happened in the Art Institute of Chicago last September. The museum decided to end its 60-year-old program, which had already stopped hiring new volunteers in the past 12 years. For the future, they are determined to “rebuild their program from the ground up” and take further steps toward following their core values, which emphasize the importance of diverse perspectives. To this end, they informed their 82 volunteers about their decision in a letter leaving no platform to have a conversation about alternatives. From now on, the AIC’s new system would rely entirely on paid educators, and docents were invited to apply for these positions until their program would be reintroduced with updated protocols. The Art Institute of Chicago was shocked by the criticism they received following their statement on disbanding the program. Myriads of hateful letters and e-mails were sent to the museum along with headlines of “Moral Panic Journalism” by conservative media, writing about the case as discrimination against white people. The AIC however, is not the only museum that ended their docent program. Although the Birmingham Museum in Alabama or the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum handled the situation the same way, none of these events became as controversial as this one.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the docents themselves agree to this change. Despite being disappointed, they are ready to continue to work toward their mutual goal to serve diverse audiences. But at the same time, can these guides – committed to the institution – be expected to get along with the decision, supposing they should be aware of what is useful for the museum in long-time respect? It is hard to say, but there are even more issues that Pogrebin’s piece brings up.

One moral question raised by this article concerns the situation of museum educators. How is a volunteer educator different from a volunteer curator? Why is it easier to imagine an unpaid educator than an unpaid curator? Even nowadays, there exists an obvious hierarchy in the museum field. Art history is traditionally seen as a women-dominated profession. Yet, there are certain roles in a museum which are considered masculine, and are more respected since they have less to do with audiences and more with scholarship solely – causing further gender inequalities as well. According to related forum posts at the AAM’s website, this bias suggests that the work of museum educators worth less than those who organize exhibitions, when in fact, this is not the case. In order to create successful exhibitions with programs that attract audiences, hence generate revenues, curators cannot exist without educators and vice versa.

Docent guided tour in the AIC

It is also questionable that in the present era of the reinvented museum should art enthusiasts educate without having been trained for it? Necessarily, more and more complex interdisciplinary techniques and trends flood the museum field and it is debatable that docents can – or are willing to – keep up with evolving museum practices, not to mention the need for having the proper language and approach to have conversation about questions of race, gender and identity. In the new museum, a conventional gallery tour became insufficient for today’s visitors. It is true, that most volunteer educators are experienced guides and have an in-depth knowledge of their collections, but their devotion will not seem to be enough to engage audiences in the future. Can employers and visitors have the same expectations from a docent as a paid staff member? Furthermore, where is the place of the volunteer in the organization chart? Here lies the importance of clear job descriptions, which make it possible for everyone to be aware of what to expect from others in an institution and how not to exceed their own authority. Besides having a volunteer manual, docents receive a job description, like any other colleague of the museum, that outlines the summary of their position, list their specific duties and specifies to whom they need to report.

Another concern about laying off free workforce is the current situation of the pandemic. In times of COVID, can museums afford to fire experienced volunteers who work for no money? Or is this time of self-reflection provides the best opportunity to rethink how a museum wants to function in the next years? One financial consequence for institutions is that in some cases docents also serve as donors of the museum, which means, there is a possibility to lose income from their side. It might be too early to decide whether the Board and James Rondeau, director of the Art Institute of Chicago made the right decision or handled the situation well by sending an e-mail to docents about the ending of their work and offering them memberships for two years as their gratitude for their services. However, this period of reevaluation and slowing down certainly creates space for museum professionals to find new ways to serve diverse audiences better by developing experimental, innovative and inclusive strategies. The new model of the AIC aims to eliminate the tendency of excluding professionals by favoring unpaid staff. The tours, offered by docents were mostly free of charge, therefore the lack of this service will have an impact on visitors as well, as not all of them can afford to participate in such events. The Art Institute of Chicago stated that one of their goals is to include social classes with lower income. The fees of future museum programs are still unknown, but the will to reintroduce docent programs by 2023 is a silver lining both for volunteers and the public for this paradox situation.

Docents are certainly one of the most valuable corps of museum work. Their commitment, enthusiasm and knowledge are essential for the operation of cultural institutions. At the same time, it is also true that the current practices of employing volunteer guides are not sustainable anymore. To solve the problem, Sophie Haigney agrees with the AIC about turning these positions into paid ones and suggests in her article, that museums should involve more students, who can get credits for their work in museums. In overall, one key element could be the reform of training docents. On the one hand, it is surely crucial to know the collection of the museums. On the other hand, there should be more discussions facilitated by outside specialists about social inequities and how to interpret, handle and address them comfortably during a guided tour. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a pioneer in this respect as they introduced trainings required for both paid and unpaid staff to help them recognize and deal with unconscious bias. However, according to Haigney’s piece, even these docent trainings should be redesigned as they are still fully dedicated to white audiences. It seems like the problem is much more complex than just the issue of training and it will surely take decades to get to a solution.

The JFK Library: A Man and His Children

It’s an image etched into our national consciousness as Americans, perhaps from before we even know its context: that of a toddler John F. Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father’s casket. It was November 25th, 1963, making it the little boy’s third birthday, and while standing beside his grieving mother and sister he raised his right hand and made the gesture that has since become an inseparable part of American collective memory.

John Jr.’s famous salute at his father’s funeral. It was his third birthday.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve been simultaneously entranced and haunted by the moment since childhood. My mom has loved studying Kennedy history since she was a teenager, so I don’t remember a time when I was not acutely aware of such images of their famous political family — the joyous and the triumphant, the solemn and the heartbreaking. Yet John Jr.’s innocent, imitative expression of respect at his father’s funeral has always been, by far, the most powerful to me.

At the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, the untimely loss of the thirty-fifth president of the United States is not dwelled upon: one hallway, set apart from all other galleries with its stark black walls, features a handful of monitors that play news footage of the funeral, and that is the extent of it. After all, this is the part of the story everyone already knows with painful intimacy.

“The sea he loved”: a beautiful day, right outside the JFK Library. Taken 5 March 2022.

Instead, the museum makes its mission to “engage with citizens of all ages and nationalities through JFK’s life story and the ideals he championed,” and it certainly accomplishes this. I visited with my sister last weekend, and we were deeply struck by the careful detail in which the library leads visitors through Kennedy’s campaign, his actions as president, and his continuing legacy to our present day. His wife Jacqueline is recognized for her work as First Lady and her efforts in historical preservation; his brother Bobby’s role as Attorney General and his sister Eunice’s advocacy for intellectually disabled individuals are highlighted; and a whole cast of international leaders like Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, Félix and Marie-Thérèse Houphouët-Boigny of Ivory Coast, and Charles de Gaulle of France (to name just a few!) illustrate the complex political climate of the early 1960s. The library’s location, overlooking “the sea that he loved and the city that launched him into greatness,” helps to complete the picture of JFK and his world.

A magazine article revealing Caroline’s nickname for her little brother — “the kissing baby.” On display at “First Children.”

And then, of course, there are his children. When the Kennedys moved into the White House, they brought with them the first youngsters to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Caroline, just 3, and John Jr., two months old, became instant icons of pop culture, absolutely captivating the American public with their every step, babble, and baby tooth. 

Finger-painting by John Jr., 1963. On display at “First Children.”

There is a gallery dedicated to JFK as a family man in the library’s permanent collection, but in August of last year, a temporary exhibit examining Caroline and John Jr.’s celebrity status opened in the special exhibition gallery. Titled “First Children: Caroline and John Jr. in the Kennedy White House,” it was, perhaps, my favorite part of the experience this visit.

JFK often invited the children to play in the presence of photographers when their mother wasn’t there to express her disapproval — hence the existence of such iconic photos as this one, of John Jr. playing under the Oval Office desk.

Revealing their mother’s determination to shield her children from the international spotlight — while, at the same time, her husband was well aware of the humanizing effect his toddlers had on public image and didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it — “First Children” weaves a story of the innocence of childhood even in the midst of extraordinary circumstances. A highlight for me was the recreation behind glass of Caroline’s White House bedroom, filled with gifts from international leaders, and the display of her dolls (of which she received about 75 from foreign dignitaries across the globe). Close by, the exhibit cycled through a slideshow of photos depicting the room as it appeared at the time, complete with one of John Jr. grinning by his sister’s couch, where countless dolls are set up lovingly. 

Caroline’s Christmas List, December 1962. On display at “First Children.”

Pieces of artwork by both children and a letter to Santa from the last Christmas they spent with their father (wherein Caroline requests a “real pet reindeer” for herself and “interesting planes…or something he can push and pull” for her little brother) were other particularly special moments. These children lived lives that were anything but ordinary, in any sense of the word — yet they were still just children. It was a striking experience: these youngsters who we all feel we know so well, because American culture is so saturated with their likenesses, becoming so real.

John F. Kennedy, Jr. and cousin Patrick at the dedication of the JFK Library in Boston, October 1979.

When the John F. Kennedy Library opened in 1979, the children — by this time 21 and 18 — were, of course, present at the dedication. John Jr., in fact, read a poem by Stephen Spender in honor of his father. “I think continually of those who were truly great,” it opens, ending with the lines “Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun / And left the vivid air signed with their honour.”

Interestingly, in a moment that has since become famous, an adult John Kennedy Jr. told a friend that everyone expected him to become a great man, as his father had been. “I think,” he said, “it would be a much more interesting challenge to see if I could make myself into a good man.”

Memorial outside JFK Jr.’s apartment, 1999.

Taking my cues from the JFK Library, I won’t dwell on the unfair and untimely losses of either John Jr. or his father. But I believe this image — of a memorial outside the younger Kennedy’s apartment in 1999, including a sculpture of that famous moment — is too powerful not to include. It bridges two tragedies, two eras, two men, a little boy and his father — whether good or great. That’s up to history, and our collective memory. That’s up to museums.

The JFK Library is currently open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 AM to 2 PM; click here to reserve tickets online. “First Children: Caroline and John Jr. in the Kennedy White House” is on view through January 2023; learn about the special exhibit here.

Weekly Job Roundup

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s roundup of exciting opportunities in museums!

Northeast

Mid-Atlantic

Southeast

Midwest

Southwest

West

Weekly Job Roundup

Northeast:

Mid-Atlantic:

Southeast:

Midwest:

Southwest:

West:

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