I really wish I had a new museum to talk about today, but it was a classroom day! We have a deadline tomorrow morning, so we had the afternoon to get our acts together for our final project. But in the morning, we met with Abbie Chessler, one of the founders of Quatrefoil, an exhibit design firm.
She was fascinating, full of stories about working in museum exhibits, and knowledgeable about what goes into getting projects done. That said, she was also a cold dose of reality! You know how sometimes you know something is true, but you can kind of ignore it for a while? That’s how I’ve felt about breaking into museum work. I’ve been going through this program and applying for various jobs without any experience, thinking something just might work out.
Today, I decided to ask Abbie what she looks for in a designer for her firm, because for all we talk about museum work in this program we rarely ever discuss practical advice for getting museum work. I’m coming into this field totally blind and inexperienced, so that sort of information is super useful for me. She said some things I kind of expected — she wants people who can be taught what they need to know, who can draw, who are passionate. And then she added that it’s almost impossible to get exhibit design work, because of the economy and the general state of the museum world.
The reality is, in order to get a toehold, I’m probably going to have to work for free for a while. Or for less, if I go the freelance-web-designer-for-an-exhibit route. I’d been ignoring that reality, until today. It’s discouraging, simply because I don’t know that I can find volunteer work in my area, or an internship (and believe me, I’ve been looking — I’ve even done the preliminary training at the Exploratorium, where they’re so fully volunteer-staffed that I’m on a wait list!). That’s if I determine that I can afford to take on less or no paid work for a while.
Let me be clear that I have no regrets about this program (something my dad asked me recently) — I just wonder what the opportunity cost will be for me to apply it in the museum field, as opposed to in another storytelling/design/development capacity.