Museology Master of Arts Program

June 11, 2019

Community Spotlight – Renton History Museum

Author: Sarah Samson, Renton History Museum Curator of Collections & Exhibitions, Museology class of 2005

“Full-circle.” This was how one of my students described the opening of a student-curated exhibit at Renton History Museum (RHM) this May. A group was attending to support one of their fellow M.A. candidates. I first met them one Monday afternoon during their very first quarter. They were all taking my collections history lab, the class I teach for the Museology Graduate Program, which for some was one of their earliest introductions to the museum world. Remembering them as they succeeded in making their first custom storage box, or their excitement as they used a sewing machine for the first time—and now seeing them as they are about to defend their theses, graduate, and launch their museum careers—this is one of the best parts of my jobs as affiliate faculty and RHM’s curator.

Celebrating the opening of "Hero’s Feast: Building Community Through Dungeons and Dragons" at RHM with previous students of the Samson's history collections lab students L-R, Front: Dorothy Svgdik, Allison Moore, Elaine Carter L-R, Back: Sarah Samson, Steffi Morrison, Nicole Jarvis

Celebrating the opening of “Hero’s Feast: Building Community Through Dungeons and Dragons” at RHM with previous students of Samson’s collections history lab.
L-R, Front: Dorothy Svgdik, Allison Moore, Elaine Carter
L-R, Back: Sarah Samson, Steffi Morrison, Nicole Jarvis

I was privileged to be the first Museology intern at RHM (a long time ago!) and when I was hired as collection manager, there was never a question about the value of continuing RHM’s relationship with the Museology program. My internship was vital real-world experience and cemented my confidence that I could do this job. Providing that same opportunity for emerging professionals is an essential part of helping them launching their careers and is, quite frankly, an exciting thing to be a part of. We have such a niche profession—of course I want to spend time with someone else who gets giddy about properly stored artifacts! To date we’ve hosted 56 Museology students as interns, volunteers, and served as a venue for guest curators and theses.

I firmly believe that the best thing I can offer an intern is a discrete project they can put their name on. I want to provide them the tools, support, and, ultimately, the space, to plan and execute a successful project. Whether that be curating an exhibit, cataloging and photographing a collection, sorting through and choosing artifacts for accession, handling a large deaccession, or doing the background research for an exhibit, I want them to have ownership of the project. 99% of the time this works out and is a good sink-or-swim moment for the students. It’s as close to real life as you can get before this actually is your real life.

Our relationships with the UW students have given us so much in return. We’ve hosted several exhibits that simply wouldn’t have been possible without student curators. They bring fresh, innovative ideas to the table that stretch staff and make us better. We operate with “experimental” as one of the goals for our exhibits and programming. Students help us achieve this each year in ways I’m happily surprised by. One of the most marked successes of student exhibits is connecting with different and more diverse members of our community. Our current student-curated exhibit, Hero’s Feast: Finding Community through Dungeons & Dragons, is attracting a part of our community that has never been to the museum before.

This week I’ll attend graduation, watching the students I first met nearly two years ago walk across that stage to begin their careers. Some of them know where they’re going and some of them are still trying to figure that out. In both cases, I eagerly await their emails and phone calls giving me updates as they achieve their goals and do amazing things for the museum profession.