The Common Thread

By: Jayna Hintz, curator of education on March 3rd, 2010

Recently a student from UWMC, a museum volunteer, met with Woodson Art Museum staff to find out if a museum career was something she wanted to pursue. Over the years I’ve met with many students interested in museum careers. A FAQ is “What strengths are needed to pursue a career as a museum educator?” I can’t offer a canned answer because so many variables influence why or how each individual pursues a career. What I can give is an example of one great strength required: the ability to find and make connections between objects and viewers. This may sound simple, but if someone placed Shrek and a dog in front of you and asked you to create programs that relate and strengthen your understanding of each, what programs would you formulate?

I’ve been making connections between viewers and objects for ten years now. The Woodson Art Museum changes exhibitions five times each year. You can do the math. The most challenging situation is when three exhibitions take up residence in the galleries concurrently versus other times when only one exhibition is featured. Rather than create connections for objects having a common theme, I need to develop ways to connect all three exhibitions and then present them as a whole. Finding a common thread is the key to making connections.

Program planning for each new exhibition is an invigorating part of my job. Why? Maybe it’s the way museum educators’ brains are hardwired. Yesterday I was reminded that my son, as a freshman, would be reading The Odyssey. Today I saw a single gray hair sticking up from my part and a thought passed through my mind . . . “If I pull this gray hair out, will two grow back like Hydra?” Do you see the connection? These connections are everywhere; it’s a matter of building upon the known and bridging it to the unknown. The stronger the bridges I can create, the greater the success we’ll achieve in public perception and understanding of the exhibitions on view.

If you’re interested in finding out how Shrek and a dog relate, visit the Woodson Art Museum between April 17 and June 20 to see three exhibitions: William Steig: The Man Who Never Grew Up, Elliott Erwitt: Dog Dogs, and Canine Beauties: Sleeping or Otherwise. Visit to learn about public programs that complement every exhibition.

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