Museology Master of Arts Program

April 20, 2018

Exploring Creativity in Art and Science – Amy Oates (Alumni Spotlight)

Amy Oates at the Exploratorium's 2017 Maker Faire

Amy Oates at the Exploratorium’s 2017 Maker Faire

Amy Oates entered into the Museology Graduate Program knowing that she had a passion for art.  But it was her experiences in graduate school that opened her up to the possibilities of where this passion might take her. “I thought that I always wanted to work in an art museum,” she said, “but I began to question that, and even what I meant by ‘art’ and why I valued it.” Thanks to her museology classes, Amy began to unpack these questions, discovering that the value of education for creativity and human development was what she was most passionate about.

During her time as a graduate student, Amy made the most of Museology’s varied coursework to understand how a museum functions as a whole. “Museology helped me learn about museums in a holistic way so that I am able to approach my corner of the museum universe with a greater understanding and value for the other pieces, players, functions, systems,” she said. “I was interested in public programs and education in museums, but you’re not going to get away from the fact that you’re part of an organization with a structure, politics, and a culture… to get to see that side of it and to think ‘what is the culture that I want to be part of?’”

Amy installing Light Play in the Exploratorium's Tinkering Studio

Amy installing Light Play in the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio

Amy pursued a variety of internships while she was a student, exploring how institutions of various sizes, in different regions, and with different work cultures integrate art and science. An assignment in her museum education class lead Amy to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, an institution that focuses on the process of creativity and the integration between art and science. “Discovering the Exploratorium showed me that there is already a place that sees art and science as equal,” she said. “Here there is a value of how the two interact to help people develop and learn.” This sparked Amy’s interest, and lead to an internship at the Exploratorium in their Lifelong Learning department, which led to her finding a job there after graduate school.

Currently, Amy works at the Exploratorium as a Project Coordinator, working with nearly everyone at the museum at one point or another. Amy splits her time between designing and facilitating activities with the Tinkering Studio and managing special projects within the Museum Experience division. The holistic approach from Museology helps her communicate with everyone she works with. “Museum work is cross-departmental,” she says, “the need to effectively communicate the projects I’m doing (or advocating to do) to internal stakeholders and team members is crucial in order to get collaborative work done.”

Light Play at the Exploratorium

Light Play

Being in such an involved position has allowed Amy to lend a hand to many of the new initiatives taking place at the Exploratorium. She is a member of the coordinating team for the Generating Engagement and New Initiatives for All Latinos (GENIAL) project, a project funded by the National Science Foundation that organized a summit of 91 people across the United States and Puerto Rico to Identify needs and opportunities for Latinos in informal science learning environments. Amy was also involved in PlayLists, a mobile web-based tools for on-site visitors to facilitate their own exploration, which the Exploratorium launched last year. As part of the Tinkering Studio team, Amy has helped pull off extravagant tinkering events such as the “Infinite Versatility of Cardboard” and other activities at Maker Faire. Last year Amy and the Tinkering team prototyped activity development around a project called Light Play. Through this project Amy was able to integrate her art practice with her museum practice for an activity workshop. In addition to these exciting projects, Amy has twice curated the Tinkering Studio’s Cabinet of Curiosities to accompany the Exploratorium’s winter exhibition, Curious Contraptions.

Of all that she accomplished, Amy is still most proud of the summer camp programs she worked with in the first 6 months of her time with Exploratorium. “We drew from the best of exhibits, programs, expertise, and the special sauce that make the Exploratorium what it is, and we bundled these things along with building relationships with campers who we still get excited to see when they return to the museum.”

2017 GENIAL Summit

2017 GENIAL Summit

Amy is able to apply a lot about what she learned in Museology about leadership in a museum. “So many of the classes, assignments, and discussions made me assume a role of leadership in a museum… We were brought into those types of roles and although those aren’t my roles currently, they helped me develop as a leader and prepared me for my current role.” Now Amy feels confident naturally assuming a role of leadership, even if it isn’t being asked of her saying “I am willing and want to take on leadership and I think it has allowed me to take part in projects and conversations that I might not otherwise.”

Amy recognizes her ability to be apart of so many successful projects as a result of her time in the Museology program for having helped her to learn about museums in a holistic way. Amy approaches the museum universe with a greater understanding, ultimately taking on the role as a leader and forward thinker in the field. “While the roles I have had did not expect me to take on leadership or view my work in light of the museum at large, I have continued to operate from the mindset I cultivated in the Museology program, and I believe this perspective has led me to a place at the table of strategic initiatives and projects in the past year beyond what my current role would otherwise require or offer.