Becoming a Conservator: A recap of the Smithsonian American Art Museum/ Lunder Conservation Center

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When you are considering a career in museums there are many avenues one may take. If you like to teach-be an educator or work in education. You are good at fundraisers- development or marketing may be a good fit. Love science and art/objects- conservation is for you! Thanks to the dedication of conservators our priceless museum collections can stay as beautiful as the day of their creation.

Today we met with Abigail Choudhury who is the Program Coordinator at the Lunder Conservation Center inside the Smithsonian American Art Museum. During our tour of the center she noted that a conservator must have as much chemistry background as a pre-med student and that typically one applies to advance level conservation programs two to three times before getting accepted. Following graduation it may take as long as ten years to land a full time job in the field of conservation. That is incredible to me! Ten years?!

Yet, this made me pause and think about my journey as a museum professional. Those who work in museums do it for the love of their work- not for the pay or notoriety. If you have an honest love for something, what is the problem of working toward the best you possible (as in applying to programs and doing fellowships/internships for ten years). The path may not always be easy nor linear, but in my opinion, if you love the museum field, it is worth it the dedication.

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(Stained glass rotunda in museum)

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture: “I cannot believe I am finally here.”

I have waited with such anticipation to see this museum since I learned we were going to be visiting. I had heard about the long lines and the lack of tickets for months and to be able to have the ability to go thrilled me.

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The museum is incredibly powerful and moving. From the design of the building, the layout of the exhibitions, to the staff who work there, it is all spectacular. There were so many parts of the visit that caused me to stop and ponder both emotionally and intellectually. It is hard to narrow down just one experience to discuss, yet I can think of one that made me very concerned.

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Today I learned a great deal about African Americans who fought in both the Revolutionary and Civil War. Their stories were powerful and moving, yet I had never heard of any of them before. How is this possible? Why is this history missing from my text book? I stopped and thought, “who gets to decide the narrative of what is incorporated into our textbooks and why does it suddenly feel so one-sided?” As a museum professional, it is so important to tell the stories that people either miss or know nothing about in our museums, we exist to educate the public and hold history in a public trust. The National Museum of African American History and Culture does just that, highlighting narratives that are so important to our American story but have yet to have been told on such a level until recently.

Object of Interest from the National Museum of African American History & Culture

Dorothy's Dress

An object that I found of interest at the National Museums of African American History and Culture is Dorothy’s Dress from the Broadway musical The Wiz. The Wiz is an amazing musical and has won countless Tony awards. As NMAAHC writes, “The song lyrics, script, sets, and costumes all reference and champion the struggles and triumphs of African Americans” (NMAAHC webpage “Ease on Down the Road”). This musical is incredibly powerful and the costumes unforgettable.

I personally really love this musical. My high school did a production of The Wiz and I was in it (but I was a very small part). I remember singing the songs every evening after rehearsal and to this day I still catch myself humming “Brand New Day.” Some of my favorite artists were also a part of the creation and production of this musical back in the 1970s such as Luther Vandross, Diana Ross, and Michael Jackson.

Dorothy’s dress is unique because although The Wiz is an adaptation from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, it looks nothing like the dress from the movie production of The Wizard of Oz in 1939.  I think there is a reason for that. While The Wiz may take pieces from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it is its own unique and influential work of art. I am interested in learning more about this piece and the meaning behind it. Why is it white with red ribbons? Why was Dorothy’s original blue dress passed for the creation of a new outfit? Is there a deeper meaning to its colors or its design? Was the designer trying to tell us (or show us) something? I feel that learning more about the dress can help explain many other aspects of the musical, and possibly what was happening in the world at the time of its creation.

Location: Culture/Fourth Floor 4 054