The EMP Blog is proud to present our first of five professional profiles in the Museum Moonlighters series. Our Guest Editor for this series is Mariko Chang, who took the idea from brilliant inception to implementation. Over the last few weeks, she’s been diligently responding to and interviewing the EMPs who expressed interest, and putting together a schedule of posts taking us through May. The first part of this post will be an introduction from Mariko (who’s a curatorial assistant at the Cantor Arts Center and member of the Bay Area Emerging Museum Professionals Leadership Crew), followed by our first profile – Suse Cairns.
Museum Moonlighters: Making it Work sheds light on the diverse and dynamic lives of EMPs by profiling five individuals who currently work multiple jobs to support their passion, education, and/or career in museums. Across many professions, this idea of working a secondary job is known as moonlighting, a term which inspired the title of this series. These posts offer a glimpse into the realities of the field and provide readers with practical advice as well as examples of triumph and tribulation.
It is my pleasure to present the first profile of Museum Moonlighters: Making it Work. But before I do, I want to thank all those who submitted proposals. Your stories were personal, humbling, and inspiring, and they revealed the many ways EMPs have found to make it work. Depending on the response to our first run of the series, we’ll consider expanding to make this a regular feature on the blog.
Mariko Chang, Guest Editor
Professional Profile #1
Name: Suse Cairns, a museum geek and vintage fashion tragic
Place of birth: Newcastle, Australia
Blog: Museum Geek–
Where are you currently working?
My full time “job” is my Ph.D., in which I am examining the changing nature of knowledge in the Internet age with a focus on online museum collections. In Australia, many Ph.D. students are supported by a government stipend, which means I get paid to do this! But, because it’s important that my theoretical work marries with the realities of museums, I also intern with the Web Services team at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and work one day a week as the web coordinator (and graphic designer, media writer, etc.) at my local art gallery. In addition, I work at a local music venue – a job that is the perfect counterpoint to the isolation of academia.
What does your average week look like?
Theoretically, Mondays thru Wednesdays are Ph.D. days. I work in a shared office space with a whole pile of other creatives (e.g. graphic designers, web guys, filmmakers), and spend a few days reading, writing and thinking. Thursday I spend 5.5 hours on a train to Sydney and back, so I can intern at the Powerhouse. Whilst there, I work on all kinds of interesting projects, from web audience analysis to interviews with curators about the online collection. On Friday, I’m at the Art Gallery through the day, and then work at the music venue into the wee hours of the morning. In reality however, my life is not nearly so structured. I end up working on the Ph.D. at all hours, and pick up other strange projects such as the public sphere policy submission on digital culture and being on the Program Committee for the Museum Computer Network conference.
How do you make it work, and is there ever any conflict in balancing multiple positions/responsibilities?
There are frequent conflicts among the diverse hats that I wear, but fortunately most of what I do is reasonably flexible. I do what I can to make sure that my major deadlines don’t overlap, and I juggle my timetable to suit the projects. Having said that, I do turn down opportunities to avoid being overloaded.
Why is it worth it to you to “moonlight?” Do you think it helps your museum career to do so?
Absolutely! I have learned so much in the past few years. Working in so many different areas has given me experiences and opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had from remaining in a single institution. Although there is a lot to be said for a traditional career path, it’s certainly not the only way to make a career. Moreover, working with lots of people and considering the field as both an academic and practitioner has opened my eyes to so many more perspectives.
What is your ideal job? What are your future plans and goals?
I love working in research and considering the theoretical implications of what we do in museums. For an institution so thoroughly tied to knowledge and philosophy, I think the conceptual aspects of what we do sometimes gets overlooked. However, I also love working in museums and putting ideas into practice. Ideally, I’d like to find (create?) some kind of hybrid position that combines my love of research with practice. This job might not yet exist… but I have faith that there will be a way to make it happen.
What advice do you have for fellow EMPs just starting off in the museum field?
In general, be enthusiastic, try your hand at all kinds of things (you might surprise yourself), and talk to everyone. When you meet other museum folk, stay in touch. People tend to be generous with their time and knowledge.
More specifically, I would tell all EMPs to get into technology. Skill up and read about the implications of these kinds of changes. In my Ph.D., I am examining the way the technology is changing the very nature of knowledge itself and what that means for museums. Learn to code. Start a blog. Read up on the changes that are happening in technology more generally, and museums specifically. Get on Twitter and connect with colleagues. Be a part of the change, don’t let it sweep around you.