Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Claudia E. Haines (Page 1 of 6)

Weekly Job Roundup







Tufts Museum Studies at the Boston Athenaeum

One of the Boston Athenaeum’s reading rooms.

Earlier this month, several Tufts Museum Studies students made their way downtown to check out the Boston Athenaeum! Established in 1807, the Boston Athenaeum is both a library and a museum, boasting an impressive collection of both books and art. The institution’s present location at 10 1/2 Beacon Street—between Boston Common and Granary Burying Ground—was completed and opened to the public in 1849, and today the Boston Athenaeum welcomes researchers and visitors alike.

In the Boston Athenaeum’s book stacks, a gap between the floor and the shelves reveals just how many floors of books the library owns!

During our trip to the Athenaeum, we were treated to a private tour by Director of Education Hannah Weisman. After exploring all five floors of the library (including the many floors of book stacks—see the picture at left!), we got to view a few fascinating items from the Athenaeum’s archives: everything from early printed books to historic maps to Civil-War-era photo albums. Another highlight included checking out a collection of books owned by George Washington!

Overall, the Boston Athenaeum is definitely worth a visit. Learn more about their hours and admissions here! And if you can’t make it to the Athenaeum in person right away, definitely check out their rich Digital Collections.

We’re looking forward to many more Museum Happenings in the future—next up, a trip to the MassArt Art Museum to check out Joana Vasconcelos’ installation Valkyrie Mumbet!


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.

Weekly Job Roundup







The Contested Legal Legacy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

If you live in Boston, you’ve probably visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a beloved local museum that preserves the impressive art collection of philanthropist and socialite Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924). Fewer of us, though, are familiar with the museum’s complicated legal history, and the public uproar that occurred when the museum announced its intention to expand several years ago. January of this year marked the ten-year-anniversary of the opening of the museum’s New Wing, so there is no better time to look back on this complicated but fascinating story.

On January 19, 2012, museum director Anne Hawley, then-mayor Thomas Menino, and several museum trustees gathered in front of the 70,000-square-foot New Wing and cut a red ribbon to formalize its opening to the public. But despite what this fanfare might suggest, the completion of the New Wing—and the years-long construction project that preceded it—were not without their share of controversy. While museum stakeholders envisioned the New Wing as a symbol of the museum’s entry into the twenty-first century, opponents saw it as an affront to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s stated desire that the museum not change in any way following her death, and a brazen attempt by the museum to ruin the institution’s unique history. Contentious debate ensued as supporters and opponents of the New Wing alike insisted that Isabella herself would have taken their side.

John Singer Sargent’s 1888 portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, born in New York City in 1840, first developed a passion for art collecting after learning that she could not have children, and dedicating herself to travel instead. A large inheritance obtained upon the death of her father enabled Isabella to purchase works by renowned artists including Vermeer, Whistler, Titian, and Degas, and before long, her collection had outgrown her home at 152 Beacon Street. At this point Isabella and her husband, Jack, decided to build a museum to house their collection, which ultimately numbered over 2,500 works spanning from ancient Egypt to their own day.

Just a few weeks after Jack’s untimely passing in 1899, Isabella acquired the land in the Back Bay Fens where her museum now stands. Devastated by the loss of her husband, Isabella threw herself into the building project, and after nearly four years of construction and curation, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (then called Fenway Court) opened on January 1, 1903. Visitors coming to the museum in search of a lesson in art history were surely disappointed: the museum offered no maps or guides, and almost none of the works had labels explaining their significance; instead, the arrangement of the collection was driven purely by Isabella’s eccentric taste.

It was exactly this unique arrangement that Isabella sought to preserve in perpetuity through her famously restrictive will, which mandated that the collection at Fenway Court was to be preserved without alteration “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.” Absolutely nothing in the museum was to be moved or sold, and no additional artworks could be added, or else the entire collection would be dispersed. In effect, the museum was to be frozen in time even as the years wore on.

Isabella’s wishes were followed to the letter for decades, but by the turn of the twenty-first century, it became clear that the will’s restrictiveness was jeopardizing the museum’s success. Visitorship had skyrocketed, and the original building proved poorly suited for hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. New spaces like a café, a bookstore, and a gallery for temporary installations were stuffed uncomfortably into the space. Conservation was becoming a challenge as well: the haphazard arrangement of the galleries combined with the high number of visitors meant that people were constantly bumping into the historic furniture, damaging it over time.

Because Isabella’s museum couldn’t be changed without violating her will, it seemed that the museum had no choice but to eventually fall into chaos and disrepair. But with the arrival of director Anne Hawley in 1989, a new vision for the museum began to take shape.

The New Wing of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, opened in 2012.

The board ultimately concluded that the only viable path forward was to add a new wing to the museum, and in 2004 they hired architect Renzo Piano to take charge of the project. Piano’s four-story New Wing, which opened to the public in 2012, sits a short distance from the original building. Its glass walls allow sunlight to flood the space during the day and provide a clear view of Isabella’s museum. It features a performance hall, a gallery for temporary exhibitions, classrooms and art workshops, conservation labs, a restaurant and gift shop, and nearly doubles the museum’s footprint, successfully addressing many of the problems that the original building faced after nearly a century of operation.

Hawley and the board acknowledged that while the addition of the New Wing was technically a violation of Isabella’s will, it was an unavoidable necessity. Supporters of the New Wing project also emphasized that Isabella’s collection would remain virtually untouched as the New Wing was an entirely separate but complementary space. But nevertheless, several local groups, including the Friends of Historic Mission Hill, voiced serious trepidation about the project, and the museum’s willingness to disregard Isabella’s explicit instructions. As such, in 2008, when the museum formally sought legal permission to break Isabella’s will, the Friends also filed a brief, pleading with city authorities to halt the project.

Ultimately, though, the project proceeded unabated, and the New Wing has not suffered for popularity since it opened. In 2016, it was awarded the Harleston Parker Medal, which the Boston Society of Architects has awarded to the “most beautiful building” in the city every year since 1921.

Regardless of how we each feel about the New Wing, we can all agree that Isabella herself—whether she would love or hate the New Wing itself—would have gloried in the drama surrounding the project. She was known by her contemporaries to be an unconventional woman, at least by the standards of her own time, and as journalist Francis Storrs has written, in her lifetime she “happily watched her mythology grow, even if it meant letting false accounts of her exploits go uncorrected in the press;” she even went so far as to advise a friend to never “spoil a good story by telling the truth.” The construction of the New Wing certainly made for a good story that aroused strong opinions in its various constituents—which Isabella herself surely would have appreciated.

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