From the Field: Community Outreach
Hi everyone! My name is Jessica Fijalkovich, I’m the Art Library Program Coordinator at the Akron Art Museum and an alumna of Kent State University’s M.L.I.S. program. When I realized I wanted to work in a museum I dreamed about working in community outreach, bringing the museum experience to people outside of the traditional museum setting. In my role at the museum I get to do exactly that, along with a lot of admin work, meetings and a variety of professional development activities. For those who haven’t heard of the Akron Art Library, it’s an art lending program organized by the Akron Art Museum in partnership with Akron-Summit County Public Library. Any Ohio resident is eligible to check out original works of art for up to four weeks at a time with their library card— just like checking out a book or movie.
I began the M.L.I.S. program in 2014 with the intent of becoming a Special Collections Librarian. As fate will have it, these plans changed when I enrolled in Foundations of Museum Studies with Dr. Latham and something just clicked. What I appreciated most about this course, and all of the other Museum Studies courses for that matter, was the balance between theory and practice. From interviewing museum professionals, observing connections between objects and visitors, developing and managing a collection, and writing texts for museum interpretation the assignments launch you directly into the field. These pragmatic endeavors gave me the confidence to continue on with my own explorations outside of the coursework and to further develop my connections with museum professionals. My advice to you: go to as many museums as you possibly can and talk to museum professionals doing work that you admire.
Now, I’m going to be real with you. This is a very competitive field to break into. Whether you are applying to your dream job, an unpaid internship or you simply want to volunteer your time as a docent, it’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle. Going out of your way to establish relationships with professionals in the field can help advance your career, and it’s exactly how I landed my practicum experience in the Education Department at the Akron Art Museum. This internship was hands down the most invaluable experience of my graduate student career. Not only was I able to work on a variety of projects, but I also had the opportunity to really reflect on what role I was best suited for. The project I most enjoyed working on was the Akron Art Library. The program hadn’t launched yet, and I was tasked with working with artists to develop labels and writing didactic texts. I completed the practicum August 2017, the same month I graduated from the M.L.I.S. program. In November 2017 I was asked to come back to the Akron Art Museum as the Art Library Program Coordinator where I would assume primary responsibility of the lending program.
Art Library extras at the Akron Art Museum
As the Art Library Program Coordinator I’m responsible for curating the lending collection, contributing to museum publications, coordinating with artists, liaising with community partners, planning related programming and working interdepartmentally to assess preservation needs. I should note that despite all of these responsibilities, this is a part-time job. I also work part-time at the Cleveland Museum of Art as supervisor of the Street Team and I recently worked as the Volunteer Coordinator for FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. I feel very lucky to have all of these experiences under my belt, which I largely attribute to the support of my network that I’ve built up along the way. What my colleague Chrissy Marquardt mentioned a few blog posts ago about the plethora of part-time jobs you take on as an emerging museum professional— it’s no joke.
Art Library Collection at the Akron-Summit Country Public Library
Art Library Carrying Case
In addition to gaining hands-on experience through an internship and a variety of work experiences, I also volunteered in the MuseLab where I worked on an inventory project, helped to design a display case and gave tours. The MuseLab is a space where you can help design and install exhibitions, work with museum objects and collaborate with peers and professionals from the field. Having the opportunity to be behind the scenes in a fully-equipped work area is not an opportunity to be missed, especially if you have yet to work in a museum. If you haven’t been to the MuseLab I urge you to check it out and get involved!
My parting piece of advice, which all of the museum studies professors imparted on me, is to stay committed to lifelong learning and professional development. Join related organizations like American Alliance of Museums, Ohio Museums Association (if you’re Ohio-based) and National Emerging Museum Professionals. Many of these organizations offer reasonable student rates. I also recommend that you attend conferences for these organizations and for particular museum content you’re interested in. Again, many of these conferences offer stipends, scholarships or discounted rates for students and in some cases you can go for free if you sign up to volunteer. Perhaps the easiest way to stay in the know is through keeping up with publications from the field, listening to podcasts related topics and following museums in news reports.
Being that the M.L.I.S. program is now 100% online I realize that it can sometimes be an isolating experience, just know that it doesn’t have to be. You can easily start building your network and career by connecting with peers and professionals in the field through volunteering, interning and joining organizations. If you’re local and would like to chat I’m always down to grab a cup of coffee or check out the latest art exhibition. Just throwing that out there!