#AskaCurator: Part 2

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the History Center participated in #AskaCurator day on Twitter, an international event with over 1,000 participating museums from over 50 countries. The questions were fantastic and the History Center’s museum staff was happy to take some time out of their busy schedules to answer some of them.

Three of our curators answered questions throughout the day: Anne Madarasz, vice president of museum exhibits and collections and co-director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, Leslie Przybylek, curator of history, and Emily Ruby, curator.

Since not everyone tweets, we wanted to post the #AskaCurator questions and answers from this year here onto our blog. Some of the responses might interest you, too!

In case you missed it: read part one of the #AskaCurator blog series.

On being a curator –

  • What advice do you have for someone who wants to be curator?

Anne: If you want to be a curator at a history museum – get an undergraduate degree in history and a master’s in history or American studies then do lots of internships at museums to get to get experience and make contacts. It helps if you love stuff – the objects are the starting point for all the stories we tell.

Special Collections Gallery
A look inside the Special Collections Gallery at the Heinz History Center.
  • What advice would you give a college student wanting to be a curator that you would have liked to know when you started out?

Emily: You usually have to spend time working for free before you get a job.

  • What does a museum curator spend parts of their day, month, year doing? 

Anne: Every day is different – that is part of what makes a curator’s job fun. Best days are creative and fun – I might be researching and writing a label, meeting with an object donor, out on a call at someone’s house picking up a collection, writing an article for our magazine, teaching a National History Day prep class on writing research papers, in an exhibit design meeting, working with installers on how I want a case of objects to look, writing a grant, leading a tour, doing an oral history.

Worst days – I am filling out purchase orders, value engineering a project to get it under budget, securing rights to use a photo in an exhibit, generating legal paperwork for artifact donations, sitting in meetings. Luckily the great days far outweigh the tedious ones!

  • What kind of things do you do you do at your work on a typical day?

Leslie: Usually some research, phone calls with potential lenders or donors, and some direct work with historic artifacts, photos, or documents.

Grace M. Compton Conservation Lab
Museum staff working in the Grace M. Compton Conservation Lab, which provides behind-the-scenes views of museum professionals at work.
  • What percent of your work time do you spend working with members of the public?

Leslie: Depends on the day – some days 50% or more, especially for tours. Others – almost none if I am doing historic research.

  • What is your favorite part of being a curator?

Leslie: Getting out into the field to discover and make connections with artifacts and stories that are new or unfamiliar to people.

Emily: Researching all the wonderful objects that come into our collection and talking with people about their history.

  • What’s the most humdrum part of a curator’s job and what’s the most exciting?

Emily: Paperwork and meetings are the most humdrum. Most exciting is all the cool stuff we get to interact with and research every day.

Everything else –

  • If I forget most of the information I learned during a museum visit, will a curator find out and punish me?

Leslie: Not unless you send me a Twitter note, telling me you forgot!

Tommy Gun
A Tommy gun, part of the Pittsburgh Police collection at the Heinz History Center.
  • Putting aside best practices, which collections object would help you best defend against the undead in a zombie apocalypse?

Emily: Hmmm….I think I would choose the Tommy Gun from the Pittsburgh Police Historic Collection!

  • Favorite moment in a movie or TV show where a museum was involved? 

Leslie: Love the scenes in “Silence of the Lambs” that include that blast from the past: the old Carnegie Museum dinosaur hall. Nostalgic!

Emily: “Toy Story 2.” I love that the actual objects are thinking about their museum legacy!

  • What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?

Leslie: At one historic house museum, I had to help HAZMAT remove a full can of ether that dated back to 1935. (Ether explodes.) Also, I once had to appear on TV dressed like a “Mardi Gras” dragon for a museum fundraising interview.

Anne: The day we were driving to upstate New York to pick up a collection and our truck broke down on 79 North. We had to hop the fence, walk down a big hill into this rural town and go door-to-door looking for someone to drive us to get gas. Obviously in the days before cell phones! A long, crazy adventure ensued!! Here’s another – climbing in a dumpster at the historic house we were unearthing collections from to push down the trash so we could fit more in – maybe worst day ever!

Emily: Probably delivering a preserved mummified body from the 1850s (in my car!) to the Smithsonian Museum of National History!

Sarah Reck is the Web and Social Media Content Manager at the Heinz History Center.

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