Live from New York, It’s Erin’s Onsite!

By: lywam on January 11th, 2011

On January 2, when people grudgingly started their New Year’s resolutions, I boarded a plane bound for the Big Apple. Why? I’m taking part in my graduate program’s onsite seminar. As a Johns Hopkins University graduate student in Museum Studies, a distance learning program, I spend most of my time working online, reading gobs of museum-related literature, and working on group projects (across various time zones – ya gotta love Skype). So the onsite seminar is a different experience. I’m matching virtual avatars to real, live humans and meeting my professors in person, some for the first time!

The focus of the seminar is on Museum Education and an “American Experience.” We’ll visit more than a dozen museums by the end of our seminar Friday. Our final project is developing an interactive education gallery proposal for the Seaport Museum New York. So far, the experience has been nothing less than transformative. I feel sort of awkward saying that, considering I’ve been working in museum education for more than eight years. But it’s true.

On our first “museum day” we traveled to Ellis Island, via ferry, braving a cold wind. What touched me most about the experience wasn’t the stuff, it was the place. During our ranger-led tour, the guide stopped us right in front of the doors and told us to look at the floor. Doing so, he reminded us of how many Americans (and possibly our ancestors) placed their feet in that very same spot. In this moment, I felt overwhelmed by history. I pondered what these immigrants wanted from America, what they brought with them, what they’d left behind, who made the journey, who might have been waiting for them in Manhattan or, perhaps, Wisconsin? What an incredible moment. I felt elasticity in time, very close to history.

Thus far, we’ve traveled to the following museums:

Seaport Museum New York

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Museum of Jewish Heritage

Whitney Museum of American Art

El Museo del Barrio

Brooklyn Museum

Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Chinese in America

Cooper Hewitt Design Museum

Tenement Museum

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

American Museum of Natural History

Museum visits still to come:

African Burial Ground

National Museum of American Indian

Brooklyn Historical Society

Rubin Museum of Art

My New York days are numbered; I head out on Saturday morning. I’ll be processing this experience for months to come and applying some of the best practices at the Woodson Art Museum. With a few days to go, do blog readers have any New York City suggestions? Any places I shouldn’t miss?

Celebrity sightings: Julianne Moore and her family at the Design Museum. Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, and Kate Flannery (Meredith from NBC’s “The Office”) having dinner together at Five Napkins Burgers (same restaurant Jayna Hintz and I went to when we did our Alzheimer’s training in NYC in 2008). Oh, and I got to get a behind-the-scenes tour of NBC (fellow classmate’s uncle is a producer). I saw Ted Williams, the homeless man with the radio voice, and the Saturday Night Live, the Today Show, and NBC Nightly News sets.

(Pictures from top to bottom right: On the ferry from Ellis Island; Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum; work by Kehinde Wiley at the Brooklyn Museum; with fellow students in the Today Show’s studio.)

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