By: Brian Eyler
With the WMA Annual Meeting only a few weeks away, I’ve been asked by the powers that be to share my thoughts about being an attendee (and a presenter) at the upcoming meeting in Honolulu. To be honest, I’ll be arriving at this particular meeting with an unusual perspective.
After regularly attending (and presenting once before - Sacramento, I believe) WMA Annual Meetings for nearly a decade, I took an 8 year hiatus. Why? It wasn’t WMA’s fault, or even a museum’s. It was purely personal. Seven years ago, I did the unthinkable. I left the museum profession entirely. I walked away from my plum associate registrar position in a terminally sunny Southern California beach town and moved to a quaint (and far colder) New England town. At the time, more of my colleagues quite naturally asked me “Why?” than “Why not?” The answer I gave them was the culmination of a feeling that had been brewing inside me for years. After working at the same art museum my entire 12 year career, I had to see what else was “out there” (and I didn’t mean a job at a fine arts shipping company). I needed to know if this profession (or another) was the one for me. So back to school I went, first as a first grade teachers aide, and then as a middle school art teacher for four years.
But as fun and rewarding as it was at times (and as maddening as it was at others), I missed the museum community. I missed working with “museum people” and as weird as it sounds, I missed registrars. I missed discussing collections policies and exhibition shipping ordeals, and yes, even talking about other registrars. Having been away from the it for seven years, I now knew how wonderful and inspiring the profession truly was. I particularly missed the WMA and AAM annual meetings. I wanted back in.
So in 2010, I did just that. I returned to the field (a lot older and a little wiser). I became a registrar again. This time around, I knew immediately that it was what I was meant to do with my life. I had experienced what was “out there” and truthfully, it really wasn’t that great. Certainly not as great as managing a collection at an art museum and working with registrars.
Currently, I am what would be called a “mid-level” registrar. Being a museum registrar in this world is strange enough (it took me 15 years to be able to tell a stranger on a plane what I do in one sentence), but being a mid-career registrar is even stranger. Four out of five days a week, I know exactly what to do at work, even when faced with seemingly inexplicable curatorial behavior. But it’s the fifth day, the day when I’m faced with a new, inconceivable situation, that I don’t know what to do. On those days, I do what most registrars do, I call a registrar who has more experience than I do, and I desperately plead for help.
At different times in my career, the WMA Annual Meetings have meant different things to me. Learning, connecting, and rejuvenation certainly. But there’s one aspect of the annual meetings that has served me and my museum particularly well. The forming and renewal of professional relationships. The relationships I’ve made at the conferences have lasted. When in need, I know who to call. And others know that they can call me with questions as well. Over the years I’ve found the registrar community, especially in the Western Region, the most supportive and sharing bunch I’ve ever worked with. As a side benefit, WMA Annual Meetings even put faces on the list-servers. (Hmmmm...is that a benefit or not? you tell me)
In Honolulu, I will be on a panel, Glory, Glory Inventory, talking about different methods of conducting collection inventory (Monday, September 26 9:30am). It’s bound to be a seat of your pants, can’t miss, must see session indeed. As my registrarial cohorts and I scheme how to make it memorable, meaningful, and at least a bit entertaining, I can’t help but think of the similarities of teaching 11-14 year olds. How do we make something seemingly as dry and uninspired as inventory relevant? More importantly, how will we keep people awake? To be continued....
Nevada Museum of Art