For the fall semester of 2009, I interned under Nancy Fullerton, Assistant Curator of Latin American Art. My intent was to learn as much as I could about museum curation. I really didn’t know much about the duties of a curator other than they dealt with new acquisitions and oversaw exhibit production. In reality there it is a lot more involved than just a PhD. and a wide array of knowledge in a specific area. Nancy’s position as Curator of Latin American Art entails many things. What I witnessed most was overseeing the production of exhibits, negotiating prices with dealers for new acquisitions, and record keeping. After working with Nancy, I feel like I could tackle any filing task or find any item
in the curatorial files. Her ability to get along with anyone really helps her network. Everywhere she took me she knew at least two or three people who were eager to help her in anyway. So, I would say being good at building relationships is an important part of curation. All of the connections she has made with people have benefitted her career and people are always willing to do her favors.
During our lunch breaks almost everyday, she’d take me to art viewings and small gallery shows. Each one was an eye-opening experience, especially the viewing she took me to the Blue Star Art Gallery (run by a former intern of hers) in October. It was entitled, “The History of the Future” and it featured all black and white photography documenting the dangerous journeys of Mexican immigrants. We
were both extremely moved and emotionally exhausted after the viewing. Before then I can’t remember a time I was ever more affected by art. She also took me to a viewing at the University of Mexico City in San Antonio called “ Luminoso” that showcased personal photos of Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In addition to these outings, she also let me accompany her to meet with art dealers to find new items for the department.
Working with Nancy Fullerton was an opportunity I will always be thankful for. She is extremely knowledgeable, patient, funny, and kind. She put a large amount of trust in me and treated me like she would a friend and colleague. I don’t think any other curator would have been so kind and helpful. These are the things that make this internship unique and extremely valuable.
If you have an interest in the museum field and don’t know where to start (or even if you do), this is an internship I’d highly recommend.
However, I didn’t just learn the ins and outs of the curator’s position. I got a detailed run through of most jobs in other departments such as exhibit coordinators, couriers, and registrars. This was something I hadn’t anticipated but I was very excited about. Getting the opportunity to work under people other than Nancy, such as registrar, Karen Baker, enabled me narrow my goals and center in on a career choice. The job that ended up being most interesting to me most was one I hadn’t known existed and at first glance, didn’t seem like something I’d enjoy. I wouldn’t have found my niche if it weren’t for working in multiple offices.
While Nancy was on vacation in Thailand, I worked with Registrar Karen Baker, Associate Registrar Kia Dorman, and Assistant Registrar Leona Scull- Hons. This kind of work ended up interesting me most. The registrar’s work is not limited to one department like Latin American Art or Contemporary Art. They deal with every department giving you an intimate glimpse of everything the museum contains and acquires, making this job ideal for someone like me who cannot / does not want to focus on just one time period or culture.
Registrars also act as couriers. Couriers are museum representatives who accompany items to insure safety while in transport to and from their museum to the other and vice versa. This of course leaves the door open to many travel opportunities. During the Missions exhibit, Leona and Kia traveled to the border to accompany the paintings and statues from the museum in Mexico. Couriers/ registrars from Mexico were also present to oversee the installation of the exhibit in San Antonio. Karen often flies to Japan to accompany items for the Japanese Art Department as well as Contemporary. Obviously these trips are not vacations in the least, there is lots of paperwork, phone calls, and I’m sure a lot of stress involved. Personally, I’d be thrilled to travel the world even if it was for work and not play.
A registrar’s daily work consists of record keeping, and entering items belonging to the museum to TMS (The Museum System). TMS is an online system that other museums can access to see what we have in our collections, it also serves as a catalogue for our use and a form of backup in case hardcopy files are misplaced from the cabinet. We are able to see what storage rooms certain items are housed in as well as when they were on display, how we came to receive these items, their condition, etc. A picture is always included as well. This system is great for exchanging items and all around networking with other museums. It could be thought of as a museum Myspace of Facebook.
I took on the task of updating the system’s information by adding photos, editing existing files, and making completely new entries for the Latin American department. To do this, all I needed was the fact sheet to insure I include all available information. A photo of the item must always be added. Leona showed me how to file and add these photos as well as scan slides (the kind you would view from a projector) if a photo is not available. This method can be very time consuming because the scanned image will require a lot of clean up on Photoshop due to dust particles that are inevitably present on the scanner and slides. I definitely spent a few good hours doing that in my days interning as a registrar.
Registrars also take on daily odd jobs that must be seen to everyday such as hypothermagraph readings. The hypothermagraph is a machine that produces weekly readings of the temperature and humidity of a room or gallery. This small machine often goes unnoticed by museumgoers but it can be found in every exhibit room in all museums. This is important in a museum where delicate climate sensitive artifacts are housed. Also in cases when the San Antonio Museum of Art would like to borrow an item from another museum that museum would most likely ask to see our hypothermagraph reading to insure that the item would be well cared for and not stored in a hot, humid room. So obviously, keeping up with these readings is imperative and could be a deciding factor in what we acquire.
Through the creation of the Missions exhibit I was able to see how anthropology encompasses this process. The main objective to creating any exhibit is to produce an accurate representation of a culture, time period, art movement, etc. In order to do so, one must consider what artifacts are important to the subject of the exhibit and have a vast knowledge of the subject as well. This will end up being unique interpretation simply because it is from an outsiders point of view. It’s one culture’s interpretation of another, and sometimes the result is helping to keep the displayed culture relevant. Curation is a similar process just on a smaller scale. An open and objective mind is a must, paired with extensive knowledge of a culture equals a curator capable of collecting relevant objects. Passing this knowledge on to the next generation on their fieldtrips through exhibits breathes new life and interests into these cultures that could otherwise be forgotten. Anthropology at its most creative.