It’s been awhile since I’ve update this blog, in part because I went to Milwaukee for vacation. This means I didn’t work at the Chicago History Museum last week (and I was too preoccupied touring Milwaukee’s many, many breweries to write a lengthy post). Here is an update of what I accomplished at the museum the two weeks before last:
The week of June 23rd and 24th I had the special privilege of meeting the president of the Chicago History Museum, Gary T. Johnson. The CHM staff coordinated an event for all of the museum’s interns to have a sit-down lunch and meet-and-greet with Gary in order to provide us with the opportunity to ask questions about the museum and show face with the head of one of Chicago’s largest museums. Gary spoke to us more about what his position entails (lots and lots of meetings with donors) as well as his opinion on current events in the field. As a group we spoke at length about the battle the Friends of the Parks waged against the Lucas Museum’s plans to build on lakefront property. As a whole the group seemed to mirror the frustrations of the president, expressing their disappointment that the city had lost such massive cultural capital; however, this is unsurprising given the fact we’re all for the most part aspiring museum professionals and will be looking for jobs sometime in the near future.
I also assisted the Education Department in helping with last minute preparations for the museum’s 52nd annual July 4th celebration. This mostly entailed ordering decorations and working with vendors to arrange drop-off before the day of, but it gave me a good idea of the logistics required to operate a large-scale and the detailed planning needed in advance. The event usually attracts 1000+ people, so there are a lot of moving parts to consider, not excluding streamers, balloons, and , thousands of miniature flags.
On June 30th and July 1st I was back working on my own assignment, FashioNEXT. I continued to work on targeting community organizations to market the event too as well as preparing the packet of materials that will go out explaining the program and its educational outcomes. In the fall, this process will continue with local schools when they are back in session. The highlight of this week for me was meeting with the curator of Making Mainbocher, Petra Slinkard. Since FashioNEXT will be implemented to support engagement with this exhibit, I was very excited to talk to the curator in depth about the source material the participants will be using down the line to complete their own projects. In this meeting, I learned more about previous incarnations of the program to inform my current planning, including what worked and what didn’t work in past years, and got more insight into the politics of funding educational programs in a large museum (i.e there isn’t a whole lot).
The most valuable thing I think I learned from those two weeks was the importance of planning events backwards. Selecting your dates (sometimes a year in advance) not only cements to time in the museum’s own busy schedule, but it is essential for marketing and outreach purposes to have those dates in stone in order to plan effectively. I also learned from Petra that it is important to creatively incorporate various collections into programs for the greatest educational impact. Even though it seems counter-intuitive to draw attention to many collections when the program is centered around one single exhibit, doing so creates opportunities for wider engagement with several museum collections at once. As a result, participants are more likely to leave the experience with a deeper understanding of historical events. Even though FashioNEXT is primarily inspired by an exhibit focused on one fashion designer, several collections within the museum can be used as supplemental information for students. Collections narrating the histories of WWI and WWII could inform participants of the anxieties people felt in response to the conflicts, including what they should or should not wear. Designer Mainbocher created some of his most celebrated designs during these turbulent years.
Next time I’ll have to include some pictures of Milwaukee. The city is very unlike Chicago- in a good way! Until next time.