Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Life as a Museum Consultant

Starring . . .

Ah, it's the time of year to take stock, mark where I've been and where I want to go. It is 
cliché, but it is also very difficult for me to resist this exercise. So here it goes — a contemplation on working as a museum consultant, and how I hope to be in 2011.

I wrote a while ago about
my career's evolution, and how I have felt as if I perhaps I was not living up to my potential. This was always rather heart-wrenching to me, of course. Thank goodness it was 2010 that I realized I had only one idea of what success looked like: it was a permanent job in one museum where I could serve and make a difference. 

I have not had that opportunity (do. not. say. that. sentence!) but have been blessed with many museum-based projects. This still has made me feel a little on the outside, as if I am not quite 'there' yet. I have always wanted more than that one project at a museum, and to be part of the team. I did my best to behave myself and be patient during these projects, making few waves, and working hard to deliver what was requested, hoping for approval. But the work would end. Over and over again, I was ultimately disappointed, because I kept thinking: WHO gets such short jobs like this and is happy about it?? The variety is good but . . . it's challenging, because I keep having to adapt to a new environment, get up to speed on the work 'culture', meet new people, form new bonds . . . then it's over. All wrapped up. What other professionals have to do this kind of variety of project-based work so much and so often and like it? And how on earth can one ever get ahead??

And then it occurred to me.

(Stop the sad violins!)

ACTORS live like this. 

And, heck, some even become

Actors work on plays, advertisements, television series, and movies. They take small roles in order to build a name - a 'brand' - and hope that people will recognize them for their craft, and to make a living. Some actors get to be known for their
face, others their body of work, and yet others cuz they's a little bit crazy and interesting to watch. But I would bet most actors are into all these projects because they love what they get to do.

How does this relate to being a museum consultant? I have multiple experiences: made
presentations, given advice to local cultural groups, worked on long-term heritage site projects, and now I am participating in a limited though intense, fabulous project. And I am realizing that I, too, have a responsibility to build a brand: what do I want to be known for, in this work that I love so much? 

Suddenly this consultant role has pointed me to the fact that many museums and organizations hire
me — Caroline Posynick — as a cast member who has to bring a lot to the production or it could fail or, almost as scary, not be a hit. Working as a consultant, independent of an organization, gives the opportunity for me to be ME with all my passion; I need to be aware of but am not tied to bureaucracies that exist within museums. My mistake up to this point is that I have been a quiet version of my museum professional self, wanting to to blend in and not make waves, be part of this bureaucracy.* I know now that this is not how I will make a difference, with or without a desk in a museum, for "making it" in the museum world means owning an opinion and speaking up with a strong voice. Being a consultant gives me freedom to say what I think will work more easily, and, man, I need to be all over that opportunity as an ever-developing professional, for I want to be known as an open, energized, fearless museum advocate.

Therefore, in 2011, I am going to strive to make the most of this adventure as a museum consultant. I will embrace the opportunity to deliver my dialogue clearly and concisely, and to prepare well and perform even better when I get my time on the stage. I will of course follow the director's instruction and not (gasp) be a diva, but my motto for the year seems to be turning into "Go For It!" And so I shall.

All the best to you and yours in 2011. Let's drive the paparazzo crazy with our awesome work!

I have been so guilty of being overly-cautious in my professional adventures — except for the one time at a collections development meeting where I noticed the curator was not present. I asked and found out he wasn't even invited. And so I said in a stage whisper, "Is this a coup??" I had better not turn into a Katy Perry — or at least be sure that it's Katy they want!

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