The Other Kind of Work-Study Job

Kemper facilities staff hang a painting by Thomas Cole in the exhibition American Places: Painting the Landscape in the Nineteenth Century.

Kemper facilities staff hang a painting by Thomas Cole in the exhibition American Places: Painting the Landscape in the Nineteenth Century (September 20, 2013 – January 6, 2014). Photo by Kemper Art Museum.

I came to WashU not knowing anyone or having any idea what the university would require of me, but I did know that I wanted to pursue a degree in architecture. I knew that I had a work-study job but I didn’t know what I would be doing for it – I fully expected to be sitting at a library desk, bored, for many hours each week. However, when the financial aid office told me that I would be working at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, I began to look forward to my new job.

My first interaction with my soon to be boss was figuring out how to balance my work and class schedule. That initial meeting set me up to know what to expect in the upcoming year: schedule flexibility, interesting work, and a very understanding boss. Over the past almost two years, I have learned even more about something I never thought I would be involved with. I previously thought that the only option for working in a museum would be in security, standing in the museum making sure that no one touches the artwork. Since coming to work at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum I have come to know all of the different people that work behind the scenes at a museum. Curators and registrars are in charge of creating an exhibit and have to be present when packing and unpacking pieces.  Facilities (what I do) is the group of people behind putting an exhibit together. But there is much more to getting an exhibit ready for the public than most people think.

Kemper facilities staff (I'm on the left!) mark off where artwork will hang in the 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition.

Kemper facilities staff (I’m on the left!) mark off where artwork will hang in the 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition (May 9 – August 3, 2014). Photo by Kemper Art Museum.

The first week at the museum was completely overwhelming as we were preparing for the opening of an exhibition, Design with the Other 90%: CITIES.  Setting up for the exhibit required much more work than I had anticipated. I thought that putting together an art exhibition would call for hanging pieces and putting labels on the walls. Little did I know we would also have to build and paint walls, position pedestals, hang televisions, and countless other things. Every day that I came in to work that week people were running around frantically, trying to get everything done. That Friday, before the show opened, we were working up until the very last moment, cleaning, doing last minute paint touch ups, and the like. The following five installations that I have been involved with have been much less hectic.

An installation shot of the exhibition Design with the Other 90%: CITIES from Fall of 2012. Photo by Whitney Curtis.

Installation view of Design with the Other 90%: CITIES at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis (September 14, 2012 – January 7, 2013). Photo by Whitney Curtis.

Just like everyone had warned me, architecture has become more demanding as I have gotten further in the program. It has become harder and harder to balance working in the museum and keeping up with my studies and all of my extracurricular involvement. Next year I will only be able to work one morning a week and I worry that the relationships I have formed with the people I work with will suffer. But I do know that my time to come at the museum will be very worthwhile. I have already learned organizational and design techniques that I can apply to my future studies in architecture and to life in general.

By Marina Archangeli (Thursday, May 8, 2014)

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