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Don’t Cry For Me Argentina!!!

I was also planning on posting another article that was completely relevant last week but as the weekend continued other things became other new things to write about. Before I wrote a kind of crazy post about tea-baggers, hippies and spare change, as well as, innovation and living off-the grid. I somehow related this all to museums reaching their full potential. Instead, please read about how as of today I officially don’t work at a museum anymore, It’s somewhat of a farewell love letter…

I have loved working at @artsmia for the last 7 years. My history extends back to when I was a young girl taking art classes, including stretching my first canvas to paint at the museum (I remember this vividly as we were listening to Beetles Yellow Submarine in the classroom).  I used to skip high-school and spend the day here and when I went to art school it was just a block away…  As an adult who returned to Minneapolis, I have had the fortune to work at this museum and really let it be the place where I learned all I could and got my chops…

Last night was my official last evening of work at the museum…  I will share my early museum history and why today I’m just fine that I left… Perhaps I am crazy, as Only Idiots Listen to Bob Dylan clearly points out, people do not leave their museum jobs!

After applying for a long time (maybe about 12 times over three years) and repeatedly receiving the “white card of rejection” in the mail. I finally got an interview with HR from a personal recommendation (thank you!). I was so excited to get this opportunity – finally!  Unfortunately, I only had a BFA from one of the best art schools and 20 years of experience directing galleries, founding an art gallery in Taos, NM, teaching art since I was 15, being a historic tour guide, kid’s camp arts director, exhibiting fine artist etc. was told I had no experience for lack of an advanced degree. I was shut down and told there really was no jobs available for me.  I just refused to leave that office without a job and asked if there really wasn’t anything.. I was offered to work in the gift shop or as a gallery security guard. I thought it would not be bad to look at art all day so I said please being me the uniform! This single Mom was happy, thought I was actually a good guard and felt completely fortunate to finally work in the museum I wanted to for so long. I ultimately had way bigger dreams then being a security guard but for then was willing to work my way up the latter!

A friend I made while being a guard gently refers to working in Security sometimes on FB as working in “the mines”… I understand that. Whereas in Europe its very prestigious to work in museum security, here I have seen and experienced where it may become a labor of drudgery for some.  Despite being on the bottom of the chain, I still rocked that uniform with fabulous looking boots and a great attitude. I seized that opportunity to really learn the art in each gallery. I’d secretly sketch the works, once caught, I’d memorize all the labels. I’d make a game of learning the accession numbers, listen to docents and learn details about all the works.  I even would help visiting students write their essays on a work of art they were excited by in the area I was guarding.  Eventually I started noticing occasional errors in the labels or weird things I thought “needed to be fixed” in the galleries.  I would find this nice guy I’d see walking around who seemed to fix things named Ken, and tell him things like, “The date on the Fournier painting is wrong”, and explain why I thought that. Shortly after, the label had changed. So again, I said “Excuse me, may I just show you there’s a Period room with two different colored candles, this sconce has an ivory colored candle and the opposite has an eggshell colored candle”, and again they changed it!  My shining moment of glory was after the entire Bell Court Decorative Arts Galleries were completely re-installed, I pointed out that the Wedgwood box couldn’t bee seen well enough because the frame of the bay window was blocking the view. I knew I could NEVER say that to the curator even though it burned inside of me and kept me up at night. I took the risk of gently suggesting to Ken that if it was moved just two inches over it would not have a deep shadow on it.  A few weeks later it had been quietly readjusted. It was confirmed for me then that I had influence, I could really change things. I felt that my voice, carefully used, actually mattered here.

After a couple months of standing around guarding art I knew I should try to peruse an advanced degree and thought since I love to paint and have read art history books since I could remember would then perhaps be a Painting Curator. While working in the Judaica gallery a docent offered a group of visiting school children what I considered a pretty poor explanation of a Tzadaka box . I realized then that it was important for me to be a Judaica Curator so I may be in the appropriate position to change the docent files and possibly other things that could help educate others. I knew if I wasn’t part of the solution, that I was part of the problem of the lack of cultural understanding and compassion for others. This path was more meaningful to me then writing about Caravaggio or Botticelli, for instance. Perhaps I may contribute to something bigger then just my personal interests in art. Perhaps I may even contribute to the prevention of another genocide.

That day I went home and enrolled in grad school to get a MA in art history. Soon I quit being a Guard and gravitated into a Student Internship in the Judaica Gallery.  I also got an Internship Assisting the Main Registrar of Collections, as well as a temporary/seasonal position as an Art-in-the-Park, Family Day and Teen Youth Programs Art Teacher.  The rest is history… 7 years later, I’ve made a million contributions to that institution, including the Judaica Docent files. I’m able see evidence of my work all over the museum. I’ve been well liked and supported by the other staff members. I’ve had great Mentors and had many extraordinary opportunities. However, no one’s really seriously championed me there or said omg this girls so amazing – she knows all the things we should do!  Her paintings are amazing she’s going to be famous one day and wow what an amazing museum Director she will be… so innovative and smart etc..” but they respect me and honor my work. Last night I taught all the new program teachers how I do an art lesson. Many new teachers approached me after to share with me their hopes and dreams of contributing to the program as I once had.  I was Tweeted yesterday a generous “thank you for wearing many hats” and I saw many colleagues I may connect with at I desire. I feel like I still have an open door and almost the illusion of free-reign in many ways when Im there…

Although I felt that I was contributing to change there I also felt like I was becoming stuck. First of all, I didn’t have a “real full time” job there. So I was never really “in”. How much change can you make when you aren’t even really “in”?  I once actually got fired for refusing to do something very compromising during a short job stint in Visitor Services and figured I never really got hired again because there was a big red NO! at the bottom of my records after that… Or perhaps because I was so full of ideas about new ideas and things and how cool it would be if x-y-z… Change is sometimes threatening to people. I remember years ago in Italy (I went there with that same great man Ken I ended up Interning & Volunteering for)  -after seeing a Kinects wall in an exhibition, returned talking all about it and people looked at me like I was crazy…now the museum brings in other people to do that stuff even though I’ve been telling them stuff like this – like to build cool apps with our collection using new innovations like AR & games etc for a long long time!!!

I was able to infuse iPads into lesson plans for teens and kids out in the parks. I also showed Registration how they could make in-galley inventories with an iPad and how easy it was.. I want to move forward with a PhD Program in Digital Innovations and make iPad apps with games for Jewish art history and immersive exhibitions for in-gallery and on the street using digital technology. Eventually I want to establish a Jewish museum and build it using the most advanced media as the architecture and mission of the museum. I’d tell people about it but realize theres no job like that offered at the museum or opening anytime soon there. Between a job-freeze and slow institutional paces of change I realized I’d have to quit my current positions if I wanted to go forward. I had reached my full potential in the roles that I had but not in the museum. A Teacher does not become an Innovative Director by staying a Teacher or volunteering to do every other job… I think could recontextualize myself and reproach the museum, and other museums, as a Visiting Artist and I also have the option of being a mentored phd student, or even get a proper job in another museum… I’ll take any/all of the above if I can! I know eventually I will have a really great job & am willing to go anywhere to do so. I have contributed a million ways to the positions I have had and to the museum and intend to again in the future…

So I’m not crying today that I don’t have a job at my favorite museum. I am ready for my next steps and know the museum is there to support me in many ways (but not necessarily a job) – but now I also believe my life and career are bigger then just this museum…I’ve enlarged my scope and feel like I’m full of options. So please, don’t cry for me Argentina!!! When my neighbor asked how will the museum go on without me? I answered that a well run institution (despite that it could use some change, as all museums can) should not fall apart if any one person leaves. A well run organization should just keep running smoothly and if your work matters you will be able to see and other people’s work perfectly…Perhaps at one time my ego may have wanted it to shake a little – but not anymore.  I love my museum but now its time for me to move forward!

About paigedansinger

Fine Artist - Art Historian - Innovations I'm going to peruse a PhD in Digital Innovations and create Immersive Exhibitions and Mobile Museum Experiences with lots of cool games for Jewish art history.

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