Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Jane V.

Weekly Job Roundup

Communications and Administrative Coordinator – Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

Executive Assistant to the Director, Boston Athenaeum (Boston, MA)

Program & Volunteer Coordinator, Canterbury Shaker Village (Canterbury, NH)

Events Coordinator, Seacoast Science Center (Rye, NH)

HR & Finance Associate, Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT)

Regional Site Administrator Northern New England, Historic New England (Portsmouth, NH)

Collection Specialist, Maine Maritime Museum (Bath, ME)

Collections Manager, Nantucket Historical Association (Nantucket, MA)

Community History Project Manager, Connecticut Historical Society (Hartford, CT)

Archives and Research Manager, Historic Beverly (Beverly, MA)

Project Archivist, South County History Center (Kingston, RI)

Curatorial Assistant, Colgate University (Hamilton, NY)

Education Manager, Connecticut River Museum (Essex, CT)

Museum Educator, Martha’s Vineyard Museum (Vineyard Haven, MA)

Education Manager, Amelia Park Children’s Museum (Westfield, MA)

Student and Program Manager, MassArt Art Museum (Boston, MA)

Memorializing and Teaching Tragedy

This past weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack that shaped the future of U.S. security regulations and international relationships. Though it is still a dark memory that haunts thousands of people today, the 20th anniversary of this event also unveils an obvious, yet still surprising truth: there are many students today who have no memory or connection to the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. This has put educators in a tough spot; teaching about 9/11 felt more like a conversation, an opportunity to mourn together and discuss personal connections to a tragedy. Nowadays, the conversation is less personal and more formal since that direct memory or connection is no longer guaranteed.

So how do we start that conversation? For me, the best place to look was the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. Learning about difficult histories is, for me, only made worse in the classroom. Classroom teaching has always been a cold, disconnected field in my experience as both an educator and a student. Museums, however, have been a warm place to surround yourself with stories rather than facts, personality rather than numbers. So, of course, when trying to figure out how to begin talking about September 11, 2001, I immediately turned to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

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9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum has an abundance of resources on its website. These resources include lesson plans for different age groups, recordings and information for public programming, and even collaborative activities that allow parents to approach the subject with their children in an age-appropriate manner. There are far too many resources available for me to delve into, so instead I am choosing to focus on one that I think is universal and emotional yet pragmatic: oral histories. Both online and in the museum, you can hear actual interviews with people like Lieutenant Adrienne Walsh, first responder to the World Trade Center, or Arturo Ressi, World Trade Center engineer. These oral histories transport audiences to those pivotal moments on September 11, 2001 and offer real perspectives on the events of that day. There is fear, anger, and hope; there is determination, leadership, and loss. To hear the voices of people so directly tied to a tragedy is an unforgettable experience that serves as a great starting point for learners of all ages.

I cannot recommend another resource for teaching about this difficult history that would be more inclusive or informative than the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. I have crawled through endless pages and hyperlinks available on their website and virtual programming, and I continue to hope that museums will serve as a forefront for making education easier and more connected for communities.

Historic Changes for Historic Times at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Institution felt the same pains that museums around the world experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its global shut downs —massive economic loss, sweeping reductions in staff, and an intense burnout as they, and museum professionals across the globe, struggled to adapt to a “new normal.” Fortunately, it appears that we are finally seeing the other side of this pandemic, and the Smithsonian has joined the likes of many others in reopening its doors to the public.

This era in the Smithsonian’s narrative will also be marked by none other than Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and soon-to-be astronaut. Just days before his historic voyage to space through his rocket company Blue Origin, Bezos made a personal $200 million donation to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, the largest philanthropic donation to the institution since its founding in 1846. The gift will help complete ongoing renovations at the museum, but the majority will go towards the development of a new education center that encourages learning and exploration in STEAM fields. 

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Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is also in the midst of historic change. In 2019, artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s proposed re-design for the Hirshhorn’s sculpture garden was approved, but not without major backlash. Sugimoto’s design drew heavily from Japanese culture and many felt that this detracted from the original concepts of museum architect Gordon Bunshaft and landscape architect Lester Collins. Though Bunshaft and Collins also used Japanese architecture as in inspiration for their work, the Hirshhorn has a largely Modernist aesthetic, and opposers of Sugimoto’s concept feared that his re-design would clash with this existing aesthetic. Some even called for Collins’s work on the sculpture garden to be included on the National Register of Historic Places. Ultimately, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has voted to approve Sugimoto’s design, and this change will hopefully bring a new sense of design unity to the Hirshhorn and its sculpture garden.

Render of Sugimoto’s concept for the Hirshhorn Museum’s sculpture garden.

Since it’s founding, the Smithsonian Institution has had an incredible story of creation and change, and it is promising to see the institution continue to follow this narrative even in the wake of a global pandemic.

Froggyland: The museum of frog people

My daily commute to work is a sacred time of reflection, an opportunity for me to walk through urbanized areas before the rest of the world has gotten out of bed. I often find myself, during this time, staring up at the towering apartments and office spaces and I imagine what will occur behind those window panes today: a 9:00am office meeting, a student Zooming into class, a family gathering for breakfast – these small everyday details that seem to get drowned out in the larger shouts of political turmoil, climate change, and social injustices. 

Ferenc Mere shared this interest in everyday life. An incredibly skilled taxidermist in the 19th and 20th centuries, Ferenc Mere was most famous for “Froggyland”, a museum featuring Mere’s 507 stuffed frogs displayed in everyday situations – human situations, that is. Mere spent an entire decade collecting and stuffing Rana esculenta, the common European frog also known as the “edible frog”, but his decision to create exhibits based on human life using these frogs did not come until much later at the start of the 20th century when taxidermy became increasingly popular. These exhibits feature displays ranging from a frog dinner party (complete with frogs smoking cigarettes around the table) to a school group of frogs taking notes behind a desk.

Though Froggyland is based in Split, Croatia, the mobile museum has gained international recognition, boasting more visitors than the nearby “Game of Thrones” museum. Ivan Medvesek, the owner of Froggyland, hopes to get his circus of frog people to the U.S. and says that it is mostly the Americans and British who love Froggyland. Is American emphasis on work and careers the underlying root of our fascination with Froggyland? Mere’s introspective look at human lives seems to suggest this, almost turning our daily routines and habits into a caricature through his frogs. This subliminal messaging is intriguing, but not without its controversy. Many have chastised Froggyland and Mere himself for his display of animal cruelty, others uncomfortable with the use of dead frogs to mirror human life. Despite the reactions, Froggyland is consistent in its ability to leave visitors discussing Mere’s work and reflecting on their own humanity well beyond their visit. For me, Froggyland is a comfort – a way to compartmentalize trivial, everyday habits. In the face of larger, global problems, Froggyland is a strange and unique sanctuary that offers this comfort and space for self-reflection. 

To learn more about Froggyland, visit their website here: https://froggyland.net/

Celebrating Pride at the Museum

Working on the National Mall means passing many museums everyday. As we enter the month of June and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, the museums and many other businesses alike will begin to post their celebratory rainbow-themed posters, flyers, merchandise, etc. Though this wash of rainbow has come under recent fire in the news, the National Building Museum, only a few blocks off the Mall, has put forth their own large-scale project to celebrate this Pride month: a massive art installation titled Equilateral Network by Lisa Marie Thalhammer. Thalhammer’s work spans the entire lawn of the National Building Museum and was designed to allow visitors to safely distance themselves while viewing the piece.

Thalhammer credits her inspiration for the piece to Pierre L’Enfant, who planned the design of the federal district in D.C. along the Potomac River. L’Enfant’s large, wide roads and clean angles dividing the city are evident in Thalhammer’s piece, which feature similar triangle-shaped sections outlined in different rainbow hues. These rainbow hues are based on a specific palette chosen by Thalhammer herself, who states that the colors “represent the intersection of people’s lived identities.” The triangular shapes were also chosen to show the balance of the three branches of government, the pink triangles serving as an important cultural reference for how LGTBQ+ individuals were identified and as a reference to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. To learn more about the history of the pink triangle, you can visit actupny.com.

The National Building Museum serves as a fantastic site for Equilateral Network because of their common ground in architecture and engineering. The museum itself is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of building and all its aspects – urban planning, architecture, design, construction, etc. At its core, the National Building Museum commits itself to teaching the public about building from both a practical engineering perspective and a more culture-oriented design perspective. The latter lends itself to Thalhammer’s work, which draws upon culture and history in its unique architectural design.

Thalhammer’s Equilateral Network is a welcome and warm sight in the heart of D.C. Its size and dedication to history and culture invite visitors of all backgrounds to spend time with the piece and reflect. This invitation is even more important as museums and other cultural organizations in D.C. begin to open up, albeit with extensive safety precautions in place. Equilateral Network offers a haven for those wanting to celebrate Pride at the museum with history and art while safely engaging with their community.

For those in the D.C. area or those planning on visiting, you can view a regularly updated list of the museum reopening schedule here.

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