Museology Master of Arts Program

February 28, 2020

Serving Small Museums – Faithe Miller Lakowicz (Alumni Spotlight)

Faithe Miller Lakowicz at the Jefferson County Museum

I graduated with the UW Museology Class of 2015 and have been working for small museums ever since. I really stumbled into the world of small museums more than I sought it out deliberately, but through experience I’ve found that the environment of a smaller institution suits me personally and can be a great step in the career trajectory of an emerging professional.

My first job out of grad school was at the Jefferson County Museum, a local history museum with a three-person staff located in a tiny rural West Virginia town. I’ll admit that it’s not the first position I would have hand-picked, but after a slightly arduous job search during my last academic quarter, and with financial obligations awaiting me in my post-academic “real” life, I was grateful to have a full-time position established by the time I graduated.

As Curator and Public Engagement Specialist at the Jefferson County Museum, my responsibilities included everything from conducting audience research and evaluation to managing integrated pest management to throwing opening-night galas, and everything in between. One of my proudest accomplishments was collaborating with the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society to curate a permanent exhibit on the legacy of slavery in Jefferson County, a huge coup in a community still very much geographically and emotionally on the front lines of the Civil War. For my Museology thesis, I’d researched the interpretation of incarceration at prisons-turned-museums, like Alcatraz, and that experience absolutely imbued me with the confidence, moral clarity, and practical knowledge required to tackle the excruciating history of chattel slavery in my museum’s own “backyard.”

After two and a half years at the Jefferson County Museum, I decided it was time to seek greener pastures—literally—and accepted a position at a working farm and historic homestead in rural New Hampshire. The position of Curator at the Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm was another one of those “everything but the kitchen sink” roles: I wrote the institution’s collections management policy, oversaw all registration and collections management, designed and installed exhibits, wrote and conducted a medical history tour, and managed two historic homes. That last part was my favorite.  I never imagined my work day including mixing cement or pruning century-old shrubbery, but you never know what you’re capable of until you try!

By this second job, I was becoming really comfortable with the small museum environment. The versatility is a huge factor for me: at a small institution, no two work days ever look the same, and I’m constantly learning, stretching my capabilities, and gaining cross-disciplinary experience. As a result, I feel at least moderately equipped for positions in a variety of museum departments, from Education to Facilities to Collections. This versatility is also one of the benefits of UW Museology’s interdisciplinary curriculum, which helped me to get out of my comfort zone and develop knowledge and skills in entirely new areas.  A small museum allows a certain level of nimbleness: if I have an idea or a problem, there aren’t several levels of bureaucracy standing between me and other stakeholders. I have direct access to, and rapport with, board members, donors, and visitors, and can advocate directly for projects that I care about or gaps that need to be filled. Holding a position within a small staff leads to high levels of responsibility, but also to lots of recognition for a job well done. You never get lost in the shuffle when you’re one of just a few employees.

I recently accepted my third position since graduate school, one that I envision myself holding for the next several years. Since January of 2020, I’ve served as Education Coordinator for the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, an air and space museum in Concord, New Hampshire. The facility is expansive, but we execute an impressive slate of educational programming with only five full-time staff, along with several part-timers and a robust crew of incredible volunteers. In the interview, my direct supervisor, as well as the Executive Director, were particularly impressed with the experience I’d gained during my Museology internships, and with the breadth of the resume that I’d been building during and since grad school. I’m also currently entering my third year as a board member of the Small Museum Association- I’m writing this between sessions at our annual conference- because I care passionately about the unique needs, challenges, and opportunities of small museums.

I sought a career in this field because I had the sense—and still do—that museums can help change the world. Visitors offer us their precious time, their attention, their hard-earned money, and their trust. In exchange, we create exhibits and programs that inform and inspire audiences to go forth and make positive changes—whether that’s in their own behavior, within their family, or throughout an entire community. It’s a tall order, but those of us in the museum field know that we do it because we love it. Five years into my career, I’m as inspired as ever to preserve and interpret the tangible and intangible aspects of the natural world, and all the various human cultures that give it meaning. Writing my thesis and earning a degree from the UW Museology Graduate Program gave me the professional clout I needed to get a foot in the door. My internships and coursework – in Museology and other departments around campus –  helped me to learn and try new things. Finally, launching my career by working in smaller institutions has given me the opportunity to build on those first two components, and to become the museum worker I want to be. For my first half-decade in the field, I’d say that’s a lot to be proud of.

-Faithe Miller Lakowicz, Class of 2015