The first two weeks of my new internship consisted chiefly of becoming familiar with the logistical details of my work for the summer and set the foundations for outreach I will perform later in the summer. Getting in and out of the building, preparing my work space, becoming familiar with the museum and its exhibits: all of these aspects filled my time and made the time I spent at work fly by.
On my first day, my supervisor encouraged me to become acquainted with past iterations of my current project, FashioNEXT, as well as become familiar with the subject of the Chicago History Museum’s upcoming exhibit Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier: Main Rousseau Bocher (I wrote more about the exhibit and project in a previous post). The FashioNEXT program will use the designer and his work as inspiration for their own designs, so I needed to study up on the man his lasting significance to the academic discipline of costume history.
To help me get started, I was able to take a look at the most current exhibit narrative as well as images of the clothing selected for exhibition. A detailed floor plan allowed me to see where each article of clothing would be placed in order to tell the story of Mainbocher’s rise to prominence, from his beginnings on the West Side of Chicago to his return to New York after years designing haute couture in his Paris atelier. This was extremely useful in regards to strengthening my own understanding of story-telling as it relates to curating museum exhibits. On my own, I found articles in scholarly journals like Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society and researched the online archives at Vogue to flesh out my understanding of the man and his lasting significance.
I also started tackling the groundwork of researching schools, community groups, and art centers that the museum could reach out to for its teen-aged participants, making a possible materials list inspired by the fabrics and design elements from the collection. In addition, I compiled a list of potential sources for in-kind donations of materials for the competition when the time came. I was glad for the experience of doing this for the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society last fall in Methods class! It came in handy when compiling information for potential business partnerships and crafting the e-mail that I will send out requesting donations.
The most valuable experience for me from my first two weeks happened rather spontaneously; my supervisor asked if I could take minutes for a debriefing meeting for one the Chicago History Museum’s larger functions, the ChicaGO24. The programming managers, members from marketing and social media teams, visitor services representatives, and website coordinators all met to go over the data they compiled from various sources including their website, social media accounts, and SurveyMonkey (which fellow grad students and I used for feedback of our own bar crawl/history tour this past May). Invaluably, I got to see the methods the museum uses to compile data and what trends they found most important for future reflection in smaller work groups. The main theme I noticed throughout the meeting was that demographic data was a cause for concern among the staff, something many museums I know grapple with in conceptualizing how to reach diverse audiences and tell stories for every audience. Also, converting attendees to members was a matter of principal concern. In the meeting they offered different ways they might incentivize membership for future or existing visitors.
All in all I had a busy few weeks! I will most more in two weeks time.