Q & A and A (advice) for Transitioning to a Career in Communications
What did you do after college and how has it lead to your current position?
In college, I wrote for various student publications, including the school newspaper. When I graduated, I found a job as an editorial assistant at a magazine for new parents. As a staff editor and writer, I developed the skills needed to be a rigorous fact-checker, researcher, and copy editor, and to help writers shape their prose into compelling, accurate and accessible content for readers who really relied on us for important information. I transitioned to communications — specifically cultural communications — after earning a master’s degree in art history. Both the academic training I received in graduate school and my prior career as a magazine editor, have been critical to my advancement in museum communications. Both gave me the fluency and skill set needed to communicate knowledgeably about art and design to audiences from all walks of life. Museum communications consider the visitor’s entire experience of a museum: from the first encounter — whether with a subway poster ad or a visit to a museum website — to being on-site in the museum’s galleries, to the multiple touchpoints that extend the experience beyond the museum walls, like emails and social media. We communicate with casual museum-goers, dedicated members, press, donors, and more. All must be made to feel welcome and engaged with what’s on view and with the museum’s mission as a whole.
How does your job influence the way that you consider or observe other museums?
I love visiting museums, especially smaller museums that faithfully serve their communities, like the Wellin and the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica. I pay careful attention to what we call the institutional voice of a museum. Does the museum use informal or formal language? How do they convey an inclusive, inspiring experience? Lately, I have started paying more attention to the accessibility of a museum. Can you see the art if you are using a wheelchair? Is there seating in the galleries? Are the audio guides easy to use? And of course, I love looking at art and design so I am always excited to see new exhibitions.
What are the rewarding or challenging parts of your job?
The biggest challenge is public engagement. We need to broaden our audiences and improve the museum experience so that it works with people’s lifestyles and interests. Museums in New York City compete with one another and with a raft of entertainment options, including Netflix and video games. So we have to think creatively and embrace risk to discover new ways to connect. The rewards are watching people of all ages stream through the door for a great program or exhibition, collaborating with my colleagues in Education and Curatorial to excite interest, and being part of a team that transforms a concept or an idea for exhibition into a truly awe-inspiring encounter with great work.
Any advice for students who are interested in either marketing or working in the museum industry?
Study George Orwell’s rules of writing.
Beyond that, I would say that it helps to have two (or even three) skill sets that you can bring to the table. Strong writing skills, plus multimedia experience, for instance. Most museums are lean and mean organizations. So strong visual communicators who can also write well are a big plus.