15 July 2014
Sandy Goes to Grad School
I have been wanting to write this post for five months, to the day. Starting in late August, I will be a full-time student in the Museum and Exhibition Studies (MUSE) program at UIC, and I could not be more ecstatic about this decision. When I began to think about graduate school back in 2009, it seemed impossible, unattainable, and to be honest, something I wasn't even sure I wanted or needed. I "lucked out" landing my dream internship at the Art Institute, then lucked out again landing in the company of my wonderful colleagues in the fundraising office, finding a nurturing community and a space to grow. But also, I was a bit hampered. So cozy was I, that the thoughts of grad school fizzled out. I could have stayed at the Art Institute indefinitely, working in development with my backstage pass to the museum... but a little whisper in the back of my mind kept asking me
"Are you happy?"
"Is this what you want to do?"
"Are you working in a meaningful way?"
"Are you being pushed creatively and intellectually?"
"Are you accomplishing what you want to accomplish in the museum?"
The long and short of it is, I was happy, but I wasn't engaged. I was close to the art, to the collection, to the exhibitions, but not close enough. I wasn't conducting research or working with exhibition practice at all. I wasn't giving tours or dealing with the collection in a direct way. I was learning what I needed to learn, and ironically enough, one of the things I learned about was the creation of the very program I wound up applying to.
After leaving the Art Institute to pursue my new job, the whisper continued to make itself heard. Only this time, it wasn't a whisper. It was speaking to me directly, imploring me to make a decision, make this leap, go. I took the GRE in December, and applied to my program late in January. I found out in February, and was elated. What's exciting to me about this program is the focus on social justice and equality in museum and exhibition practice. I won't just be studying collections, writing for exhibitions, display practice, how to hang a show, and power tools 101.
I'll be armed with the tools to ask the kind of questions I've already been mulling over internally for years. Questions about race and gender, questions about the cost of museum admission, and the need for accessibility in museum spaces. Questions I was once afraid to ask aloud, like how come there are so few female museum directors, or how come so many museum directors make so much money when compared to the rest of the staff? Why are admission prices increasing and free days being slashed left and right? Who are these museum spaces for, and are there communities that are being completely overlooked?
It is these questions that burn within me, and keep me going. It is these questions that I will continue to ask, and hopefully begin to problem solve not only in my program, but in my career.
Yesterday I put in my two weeks notice, next Friday is my last day. Come August, I'm the student I've dreamt of becoming, on the path to realizing myself as the museum professional I knew was always within me. So cheers to me, and seriously, if you have a whisper that is growing louder, don't turn the volume down, turn it up and let it roar.