So everyone has a story of how they got into their chosen career. Facebook recently reminded me of part of my story – 13 YEARS AGO! It reminded me of how I first decided I wanted to work in museums. It’s hard to remember now, but this photo was from a class party we had at the home of our Art History professor in late 2006 or early 2007. We had wrapped up a successful semester and are pictured holding paintings by contemporary Senegalese artist Yelimane Fall. I still have this painting in my apartment, as a reminder of the experience.
It was pretty early on in my college career that I decided I wanted to work in museums. In the fall of 2005, I headed off to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an undergrad in the College of Fine & Applied Arts. In our first year, students were expected to take the same core classes, and then apply for our chosen major at the end of the year. In my second semester, I took an Introduction to African Art class with a certain professor named Dr. Dana Rush. I loved the class so much that I requested special permission to join her ARTH 491 class that next fall – Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal.
Around that same time, I had failed to be accepted into my chosen major – graphic design – and had to choose something else. At the time I chose Art Education, and about 6 months later, I would change it again to Art History. I was accepted into ARTH 491 for the fall, a high-level Art History class for a sophomore student. As a collaboration between the UCLA James S. Coleman African Studies Center and the Krannert Art Museum, the class participated in hosting a temporary exhibition at the on-campus museum called “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal”. We created gallery guides, conducted outreach in local schools, gave tours of the exhibition, met with the local Sengalese community, and planned a fantastic opening reception for the exhibit.
The exhibit “explored the arts and expressive culture of Islamic West Africa through a dynamic and influential movement in Senegal known as the Mouride Way, based on the teachings of the Muslim saint Sheikh Amadou Bamba. A Saint in the City introduced audiences to the striking range of Mouride arts—from large popular murals, intricate glass paintings, and calligraphic healing devices to posters for social activism, colorful textiles, and paintings by internationally-known contemporary artists. The presentation included a devotional sanctum filled with sacred imagery and an urban market scene capturing the bustle of contemporary Dakar.”
I think part of the excitement was the diverse cultural experience, real and profound connections with people, working with so many creative and talented individuals, and the sense that the project we were involved in was really something special. It’s no wonder that after these experiences I decided “I want to work in museums”. I changed my major to Art History and began to pursue a career in museums. Not every day in museum work is as fun and satisfying, I can tell you that! But some days really are.