Category Archives: Blog

Join a NEMPN Committee

We are looking for volunteers to serve on NEMPN committees! These committees, along with the NEMPN Board, are essential to making the National Emerging Museum Professional Network an incredible support network for EMPs across the world.

Please review the descriptions for the committees below: you may apply to one committee of interest. Each committee will have a different time commitment depending on the project being taken on and agreed upon collectively by the committee. We are looking at approximately 5-7 hours a month but it could be more or less! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Sierra Polisar and Sierra Van Ryck deGroot, Co-Presidents, at

Apply for a committee via this Google Form. We currently have five committees looking for members:

Advocacy Committee: Hey EMPs- Feeling overworked? Under-resourced? Undervalued? The NEMPN Advocacy Committee is here to help. This year the Advocacy Committee will be working on three worthy tasks: eliminating unpaid internships, crafting NEMPN’s mission/vision/values page, and supporting EMP Self-Care needs. Together we can change museum culture, but we need your help. Those who advocate must collaborate, and we need your creativity, determination, and pure awesomeness to get our projects off the ground. Join our Advocacy Committee and help us change the industry, one project at a time.

Communications Committee: NEMPN is renovating its communications strategy for 2021: we want our web presence to be as creative, resourceful, and exciting as the EMPs we support! In the new year, we’re re-launching our newsletter, redesigning our website, and growing our social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram to make sure we provide updates, resources, and events for museum professionals nationwide. The NEMPN Communications Committee is looking for writers, graphic designers, social media savvy people, and anybody else who’s interested in promoting the amazing work of EMPs and their chapters across our network. Join us and let’s get started!

Finance and Fundraising Committee: The Board of Directors of the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network (NEMPN) has big goals this year to better serve and impact our community! Sick of only finding unpaid internship work? Tired of feeling like you don’t have the resources to advocate for yourself in the museum world? We are seeking Finance Committee members to help create and carry out a Fund Development Plan for the 2020-2021 year. We hope to use this plan to get advocacy initiatives off the ground, and provide more value overall to NEMPN. NEMPN is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Apply today to be a part of this Fundraising Committee!

Community Committee: We’re so excited to be starting a new chapter in the book that is NEMPN, part of which includes the formation of a Community Committee. We’re looking for EMPs in all locations to join the Community Committee to help with the following: Assessing what parts of our EMP network need support and how we can help provide it (Recruiting new members? Activating social media networks? Brainstorming ways to do fundraising? We can help with all this and more!) Bringing our community together with town halls, workshops, and other means of meeting and learning from one another. Defining and working toward EMP goals for the future, both generally and regionally [Infomercial voice] All this AND MORE!

Theory and Practice Committee: NEMPN is proud to partner with The Museum Scholar to publish Theory and Practice, a peer-reviewed journal for emerging museum professionals. Theory and Practice gives all museum professionals a platform to share their research and writings on a broad range of topics relating to museums, libraries and archives. There is no fee to publish, and all articles are free to read. This fantastic resource relies on us, the NEMPN community, to provide the back-end support that makes this journal possible. Please consider volunteering for the NEMPN Theory and Practice Committee. We are looking for a team of peer-reviewers and marketing wizards to help get this project moving.

Theory and Practice Call for Papers, Spring 2021

We would like to announce the Call for Papers for Theory and Practice: The Emerging Museum Professionals Journal, a peer-reviewed journal for emerging museum professionals that is co-produced by the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network and The Museum ScholarTheory and Practice is accepting submissions for its fourth volume, We the Museum, which seeks to develop a dialogue about how the power dynamics within and beyond museums affect everyone who engages with them, and how these structures are changing.

Deadline: Monday, February 1st, 2021 to be included in the Summer 2021 issue.

During calls for democratization and unions, amid the push to decolonize museums and public art, and throughout COVID-19 layoffs and budget cuts, museums have been reminded that they are inextricably linked to the political and social change in the communities they inhabit. However, the people who call for these changes—and who are affected by them—are often invisible within the institution. This fourth volume of the Museum Futures series seeks to develop a dialogue about how the power dynamics within and beyond museums affect everyone who engages with them, and how these structures are changing. How can the definition of a museum professional be expanded through recognition of labor and a redefinition of what is important in a museum? How can museums become institutions that are created both by the people and for the people?

Theory and Practice invites submissions from emerging professionals across the entire museum community, which includes all institutions that utilize a collection to educate the public. Case studies, research papers, presentations, exhibition reviews, and book reviews are welcome.

Submission Requirements:
● Abstract (up to 250 words)
● Author bio (up to 250 words)
● Manuscript and Citations (up to 5,000 words)
● Images/Videos (up to 10)
● List of Images/Videos
● Keywords (up to 5)

There are no fees to submit or publish, and all published articles will be free for all to read.
Please follow the Chicago Manual of Style citations for your submission. A style guide can be found on The Museum Scholar website here. Submit here, or submit via

If you have any questions, please contact Camille Roccanova at

NEPMN Statement in Response to the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping

New York, NY (Oct 16, 2020)—NEMPN objects to the content of the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping that was issued by the President of the United States on September 22, 2020. NEMPN is troubled by the message that this Executive Order (EO) projects to not only museum professionals but to all those who are fighting to end systemic racism and sexism. It is one of NEMPN’s core beliefs that museums are cultural spaces for all and should strive to represent the many diverse cultures and histories that encompass our globe. We see this EO as undermining these values and pushing to reverse course on much-needed diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) efforts. NEMPN understands that this is difficulty and uncomfortable work but we also acknowledge this work as essential for the betterment of society. We want to reassure our network of wonderful museum colleagues around the world that NEMPN is dedicated to our DEAI work. We will continue to forge a path ahead to fight for a more equitable museum field.


The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network envisions communities in which museum professionals make meaningful connections within and across backgrounds, disciplines, and institutions by providing leadership, responding to changing needs, enriching experiences, growing capabilities, and sharing resources. NEMPN is a registered 501(c)3. For more information:

New Board, New Directions

National Emerging Museum Professionals Network announces 2020 board, new direction for the future

National Emerging Museum Professionals Network announces 2020 board, new direction for the future

New York, NY (Oct 13, 2020)—The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network (NEMPN) today announced the selection of seven new board members, along with a renewed global vision for the organization and its role in providing guidance and support to new and growth track professionals in museums, cultural organizations, and other informal learning institutions.

After stepping into the role of co-President in July 2020 Sierra Van Ryck deGroot and Sierra Polisar have developed a vision for NEMPN that the pair say requires a strong team with the drive and determination to get the job done.

“NEMPN is poised to do some really big things this year and in the near future. We wanted to create a Board that is not only representative of the communities we serve, but also willing to get right to work with some of our big picture dreams for the upcoming year,” said Van Ryck deGroot, who also serves as the Education Programs Manager at Poster House in New York City. “We have quite a few goals and we needed the support of individuals who were ready and willing to get the organization where it needs to be.”

Those goals include fundraising to develop initiatives to support the EMP community, advocacy work both in and for museums, a museum salaries transparency project, and developing international resources and support networks for museum professionals at all stages of their growth and emergence. “We are excited to revitalize our resources and turn them into something more than just a place to ask questions related to the field,” said Laura Santoyo, returning Board member and newly appointed Board Secretary, and Curator of Collections at the Schingoethe Center of Aurora University. “We want NEMPN to be more than just a static, one-way resource. We want it to be a part of the community.”

The Board welcomes back the following returning members in their new roles: Treasurer—Chloe Doucette of Idaho Falls; Secretary—Laura Santoyo of Aurora, Illinois; and Director of Resources—Michelle Reynolds.

Along with new top leadership, the 2020/2021 Board welcomes four new regional directors and a new director of communications.

Director of Communications, Emily Esten (Digital Humanities Coordinator, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania)

Regional Director-Northeast, Kelsey Brow (Executive Director, King Manor Museum, New York)

Regional Director-Southeast, Cassandra Cavness (Development Assistant, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama)

Regional Director-Midwest, Dianne Choie (Youth and Family Programs Coordinator, Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin)

Regional Director-Southwest, Amy C. Oliver (Visitor & Science Center Manager, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Arizona)

Regional Director-West, Jesse Dutton-Kenny (Museum Preparator, SFO Museum, California)

Regional Director-International/Multi-Location, Madeline Smolarz (Museum Assistant, City of Kingston, Ontario, Canada)


The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network envisions communities in which museum professionals make meaningful connections within and across backgrounds, disciplines, and institutions by providing leadership, responding to changing needs, enriching experiences, growing capabilities, and sharing resources. NEMPN is a registered 501(c)3. For more information:

Next Steps for NEMPN

It is with great respect that we announce a transition of our NEMPN leadership team. Our founding President, Michelle Epps; Vice President, Katie Conrad; and our Secretary, Kristen Mihalko will be stepping down from their roles on the executive team. Sena Dawes, our Communications Chair, will also be stepping down from her role on NEMPN Board. On behalf of NEMPN, we wish Michelle, Kristen, Katie, and Sena luck, and thank them for their boundless support and guidance over the years.In this transition, the Board has elected an Interim leadership team, until new candidates can be officially voted in. Our new leadership team is:

Interim Co-Presidents, Sierra Van Ryck deGroot and Sierra Polisar (hereby known as “the Sierras”)

Interim Treasurer, Chloe Doucette

Interim Secretary, Laura Santoyo

Interim Resource Chair, Michelle Reynolds

The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network (NEMPN) was built to give museum professionals across the country and the world a voice, a community, and the resources to flourish in their careers, and it is in this spirit that our newly restructured Board of Directors is excited to rethink and revitalize NEMPN alongside the vibrant community of professionals that our group has become.As we embark on this transition, we are putting out a call for additional Board members to join us in support of our mission and reenergizing the NEMPN. Please find our call for Board members and information on how to apply here:

We are also looking to include the voices and ideas of the EMP community as much as possible as we rethink what NEMPN can and should do to support museum professionals. We will be hosting a virtual EMP Town Hall on August 11th at 8 pm ET via Zoom. Please visit the Facebook group for more information on the EMP Town Hall.

Farewell Message from NEMPN President Michelle Epps

After advocating for emerging museum professionals for 10 years, I believe it is time for me to step down as president of the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network in order to focus more on my role as Executive Director of the Cleveland-based Art Therapy Studio. Both the pandemic and the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks has resulted in both an increase in demand and need for mental health services to the community in which my organization is positioned and supports. I have come to the realization that I am not able to serve the missions of both organizations with my full-self and would rather relinquish one so both don’t fail. Though I am sad to leave, this will allow NEMPN to welcome a fresh perspective with new leadership which will propel the organization into the next decade. This was a difficult decision for me to make as I am still very passionate about improving the museum field.

Six years ago I set out to unite all the Emerging Museum Professional chapters when the American Alliance of Museums decided to move in another direction for their EMP initiatives. The formation of the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network from its inception has been a collaborative effort. There are so many individuals to thank for making NEMPN possible; from our current board members who are trying to listen and respond to the needs and wants of the larger EMP community at this moment, to the past board members and current and former chapter leaders who participated in countless meetings and were incredibly generous with their time and limited resources. 

During my role as President, we made great strides in advancing our cause and I am extremely proud of the work we have accomplished together. I wanted to take a moment to highlight the work we have done collectively to show how far we have come and hopefully inspire us to go further still. Together we effectively worked with our colleagues at 43 museum associations to support the adoption of salary transparency policies on their job boards. We started a partnership with Rogers Publishing to create Theory & Practice, a journal dedicated exclusively to the writings of emerging museum professionals. Collectively we compiled and vetted a detailed list of museum studies programs in the U.S.and hosted this information in one place to allow for easier searching of programs available. We also surveyed our community to discover details and insights into who EMPs are and what challenges we face in breaking into the field. And lastly, we worked to create a space of learning and collaboration on our social media accounts by promoting real discussion about the challenges facing the museum field today. All these accomplishments would not be possible without YOU!

“Retiring” alongside me are former Vice President Katie Conrad and former Secretary Kristen Mihalko. Both Katie and Kristen have been instrumental in keeping NEMPN going over the last couple of years and I owe them a debt of gratitude for their loyalty, compassion, and dedication. Though we may be departing, the current NEMPN board will continue on with our mission to engage museum professionals across all stages of their careers in building vibrant communities of networking, knowledge exchange, and resource sharing. We know there is still more work to be done and we hope you will remain engaged so we can continue to advocate together for museums to do and be better.

Thank you for your continued support and dedication to emerging museum professionals!


Michelle Epps

Immediate Past President 

National EMP Network

The Integration of Digital Technology and American Art Museum Practices

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions, reflections, and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.

The Integration of Digital Technology and American Art Museum Practices
By Emily Crum

The digital age of the 21st century promises an innovative, forward-thinking technological era. Smart phones, the takeover of social media, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all by-products of the tech boom that has developed over the past 15 years. This time of change raises several challenges across industries, including museums. In 2016, a photo went viral of a group of children in front of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. This photograph by Gijsbert van der Wal features a group of a dozen young people that are glued to their cellphone screens.(1)

Rembrandt The Night Watch: The real story behind the ‘kids on phones’ photo

The image encapsulates how easy it is to miss out on the experience and beauty right in front of you due to technology. Each child appears to be immensely bored with the experience. It sparked an international debate as to if the students were simply a metaphor for our age, or using their phones to complete research for their class assignment. The main synopsis was that today’s youth are more interested in their screens and applications than the artwork on display. Others argued that the students were using the museum’s freely downloadable multimedia tour. A well-designed application should not solely exist through an experience on a technological platform, but also encourage direct interaction with the artwork on display. Digital technology within art museums are tools for access and engagement and can enhance the experience in the presence of art. 

American art museums are running into two problems. First, museum educators cannot adequately meet the needs of every individual and second, educators cannot assume that every visitor has the same level of knowledge or entry narrative. According to Cuseum for Art Museums, the challenge is “with such rich educational experiences to be had in the museum, visitors find themselves wishing for more information, but no easy way to get it. Too much signage is distracting from the art, a lack of guidance leaves people seeking direction, and visitors have an increasing set of unique needs”.(2)

So, what does this mean for the future? Can art museums become immersive and interactive experiences that foster learning and curiosity without completely forgoing the traditional, ritualistic aspect of museum experience? Why are people more excited to visit a history or science museum? Best practices for art museum educators today show that museums should be attempting to reach an audience that has historically been unrepresented or disinterested in a museum. But, how can a museum expect someone to change their outlook if  1) museum practices do not change or grow, or 2) do not develop and offer new tools with the outcome to promote access, interpretation, and experience? 

One example of a museum adapting technology is the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in Cleveland, Ohio. The CMA developed and integrated one of the most technologically advanced interactive art experiences in the world: ArtLens Gallery. As part of a $350 million expansion project, “ArtLens Gallery is a multi-faceted, innovative experience that allows you, your family, and friends to look closer, dive deeper, and have fun discovering the museum’s collection using award-winning digital technology.”(3) I received a grant from the School of the Art Institute to travel to see this technology in person in January 2019. Comprised of four different sections – Exhibition, Studio, App, and Wall – the ArtLens Gallery’s multi-faceted technological achievement is a prime example of the relationship technology can have in conjunction with museum participation, interpretation, and learning. According to Jake Barton, the president of Local Projects, the goal of the CMA ArtLens Gallery was to “create something where if you’d never been in a museum before you’d be intrigued, and if you’ve been to many museums, you’d still feel comfortable”.(4)

Image result for art lens cleveland

The CMA is essentially granting their visitors the capability to engage with the collection and create stories that are relevant to themselves on a platform that is comfortable through current and advanced technology. The CMA’s ArtLens Gallery is a prime example of how the relationship between new technologies in museums cultivate new ways of visitor engagement, interpretation, and learning. The gallery promotes engagement through a series of games, challenges, and creativity throughout the exhibition, studio, app, and wall programs that challenge the visitors in a variety of ways and appeal to general curiosity. All these facets come together to create a full, museum-wide experience that starts in the ArtLens Gallery and percolates throughout the collection, creating an overall sense of curiosity, wonder, and desire for learning. ArtLens Gallery technology allows the visitor the opportunity to create a personalized visit and experience that can be different each and every time.

Image result for art lens cleveland

The ArtLens Gallery tackles many of the most prominent arguments related to modernization and the changing of the museum experience. Today, “people come to museums for storytelling and engagement, and [expect] the technology needs to facilitate that”.(5) Technology allows the freedom and independence for visitors to customize their experiences both inside and out of the physical space, but aids in a deeper connection and conversation to happen within the gallery itself. Another goal of the ArtLens Gallery and its programming is to reduce the discomfort that non-traditional or unfamiliar visitors experience upon entering these “ivory tower” types of institutions. This technology is a program that aids in developing toolsets for its users, enabling them to look closer at each aspect of an art object, cultivate a deeper understanding, and develop a new, personal relationship to works in the museum’s collection. After this first interaction with ArtLens, a museum visitor, upon returning to the CMA, will be faced with new challenges, new works, and new adventures that elevates their experience with the CMA’s collection. While not the final solution on the issue, the CMA has developed one of the most cutting-edge technologies with the intent to foster experience and engagement, essentially setting the stage for best practices in the field. 

Digital technologies within museums provide a platform that resonates with American society. These technologies can help visitors learn how to look at art, and what to look for, in order to recognize commonalities and patterns over multiple mediums. For individuals that find it challenging or feel uncertain to visit these institutions, digitized tools and collections can be a source of comfort for navigating such cultural treasure-troves. This is also true for the youth of America today that are the future of these institutions. If the youth of today are given meaningful and exciting experiences, then they are more likely to recognize the importance of these institutions, ensuring their longevity and commitment to serving their wide-ranging publics. So, the final question is not how, but when will all museums integrate technology?

7AE1ED64-D224-4F19-A983-2DB742500C3DEmily Crum is a passionate museum educator based in Chicago, IL who strives to ensure museum spaces are innovative, accessible, and serving the public at large. Currently, Emily is the Education Coordinator at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum and a Master’s candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Now in her third and final year, Emily is completing a dual degree program in Arts Administration and Policy and Modern and Contemporary Art History, and she will complete her studies this upcoming May. She holds a BA with Honors in The History of Art and Architecture with an emphasis in Museum Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Emily has a wide array of experiences from holding positions in several museums, the government, and more. She is most passionate about exposing all audiences to art and culture through facilitating experiences with lasting impact. Connect with Emily via LinkedIn.

  1.  Molloy, Mark. “The Real Story behind a Viral Rembrandt ‘Kids on Phones’ Photo,” January 16, 2016, sec. News.
  2. “Art Museums.” Cuseum,
  3. “ArtLens Gallery.” ArtLens Gallery | Cleveland Museum of Art, 31 Oct. 2018.
  4. Fred A. Bernstein, “Technology That Serves to Enhance, Not Distract”, The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2018
  5. “Art Museums.” Cuseum,

How to Find Funding and Get Your Foot in the Door

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions, reflections, and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.

How to Find Funding and Get Your Foot in the Door
By Tiffany Miller

Anyone working or studying in cultural institutions knows how difficult it is to find funding and funded opportunities. Even funded experiences, such as internships, fellowships, or educational grants, typically provide bare minimum wages. As an EMP who just finished a fellowship at the university that I graduated from, I barely made enough money to pay my rent, bills, and get groceries, so I had to go out and get second job. College students and recent graduates should not have to find an internship or job that pays next to nothing, and unpaid internship are not an option for everyone.

Hopefully things will change, but in the meantime, I hope some EMPs find new ways of funding their work opportunities and other cost-effective ways of getting out there in the field!

1. Research

There are a lot of professional affiliations and networks that share openings for paid internships and jobs, such as AAMG and AAM. It is is free for students to become a member of AAMG, so once you join you can search for grants, internship opportunities, and scholarships. This is a great place to start to find a position that meets your professional and educational goals at a wide variety of institutions, and to get a sense of what jobs are out there.

2. Ask and Think Outside the Box!

At my undergraduate university, scholarships and grants were not well advertised at all. I did not even know about these types of funding until my sophomore year when I started as a work-study student at a museum. I asked my supervisor about ways I could fund my unpaid summer internship, and they showed me the seemingly hidden section on the university’s website. From there, I began applying to any department that offered grants that were related to my internship. In my case, this included art history, Italian, and off-campus studies (which may help you secure college credit for unpaid internships).

3. Join a Club

A lot of clubs at schools and within your local communities have funding available, either from fundraisers or endowments. Ask if you are eligible to utilize it. Joining a club is also a great way to meet people for future connections (which I get into further down).

4. Experience

Funding may be more readily given to those with good amounts of experience, as this demonstrates that you have a solid idea of what you want to do. For example, for graduate school I secured full funding for my program solely based on my experience, not merit: I completed internships every summer, additional volunteering, and worked in a variety of museums in different departments and locations. This allowed me to develop a diverse, well-rounded background to become a more desirable candidate for funding sources.

5. Start a Blog

If you are interested in a certain topic, starting your own blog is a great way to get your writing out there and shared with friends and colleagues. This is also a great addition for school, internship, and job applications. From an employer perspective, it is nice to see people take initiative and step into the field through other channels, especially if you are gaining consistent or new feedback on your published work.

Rachel suggests: Check out Medium – this is a user friendly platform that you can use to create a basic blog to get your writing published without needing to build a website from scratch.

6. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!

Try working within a different department at your current museum. Or, if you only worked, interned in, or thought about working at an art museum, try volunteering or working/interning at a natural history museum. You may be surprised once you get out of your comfort zone! It is helpful to understand how other departments or institutions work to be a better employee in the future. In my opinion, finding out what you like to do is just as important as knowing what you do not like. 

7. Network Like It’s Your Job

Whether it is going to the opening of a new exhibit, volunteering, interning, reading blogs, or interacting on social media, there are many ways to connect with new people who share your interests. That one person you met at a random gallery opening or on a trip to a museum could be the person giving you a job, or recommending you for an opening somewhere else. Follow up with them afterwards to reaffirm that connection so that they remember you. It is hard enough to get a job, especially in museums, so reaching out with a quick email after meeting people in the field can go far.


This seems like a no-brainer, but you never know who people know. Always be the best version of yourself: if you show rudeness, complain frequently, arrive late, or miss an appointment, your peer or supervisor might share this with know someone at a different institution that you may eventually want to work at. Poor behavior could result in your supervisor not writing you a good letter of recommendation, or one at all. One of my previous supervisors told me that she would never write recommendations for a fellow, work-study student, or even a volunteer that performed poorly.

As with anything, if you work hard, show effort, show desire to work in the field, and are polite, all of that goes far while trying to establish your career in museums.

NEMPN Photo_Tiffany MillerTiffany Miller is a graduate student at Syracuse University studying Museum Studies and Art History. She obtained her BA in Art History in 2018 while also studying Museum Studies and Italian at DePauw University. Previously, she worked in museums and galleries in New York, Washington DC, Minnesota, and Indiana, as well as in Italy, and recently finished her year-long Collections and Outreach fellowship at the Richard E. Peeler Art Center at DePauw University. She works in collections management and registration, and focuses her research on provenance history, as well as Italian Renaissance and Baroque art and their perceptions, preservation, and placement in art collections. You can reach her at

Networking as Community Building

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.

Networking as Community Building
By Isabel Singer

As soon as I graduated from my master’s program, I started avidly networking in order to find a job in the museum sector. However, as the months wore on and a year passed by, I felt extremely frustrated that my efforts had not resulted in employment. I decided to take a break, regroup, and reflect on my process.

After careful consideration, I realized that I needed to change my perspective on networking. Good networking is more than developing instrumental ties; it is an opportunity to build a community. While I had not yet landed a job, my efforts had yielded valuable knowledge and relationships that I cherished.

Below is an abridged account of some of the lessons I have gleaned and a few of the amazing people I have met while building myself a community of museum professionals.

If you’re genuinely interested in someone’s work, it never hurts to ask them to get coffee.

Some of my most important professional relationships began because I boldly (and politely) asked a person who I admired to grab a coffee with me, even if we had no direct connection. I’ve had the privilege to take a stroll with an executive director who made an intriguing comment on an acquaintance’s LinkedIn post. I’ve talked on the phone with the head of evaluation of a major US art museum. I even interviewed an exhibit developer who worked on the amazing new SUE exhibit at the Field Museum for my blog. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The worst thing has happened to me when I reached out is that someone did not respond or told me they were too busy to meet.

However, don’t reach out to people because you think they can help get you a job. When I first started networking, I reached out to a few people solely because they worked at an organization that had a job opening or they were connected to people who could hire me. My desire for a favor colored my conversations with them and none of us benefited from the interactions.

Be open to changing your career goals

Talking to Kiah Shapiro, the Manager of Strategy at Luci Creative, showed me that I needed to think more broadly about my career. When we met for coffee in January 2018, Kiah told me that she believed her team at Luci is so strong because they have multidisciplinary experiences from outside the museum world. Her colleagues use their diverse research, project management, design, and team building skills to create experiences for museums, non-profit institutions, and even corporations. I was intrigued by the functions of her job and the people with whom she worked. Museums were not the end goal of her job, but one path towards achieving her goals.

After my conversation with Kiah, I expanded my primary career goal from “finding work in or with museums” to “finding opportunities that combine my desire to collaborate with people, my devotion to improving the world, and my love of research.” I want to spend my time building bridges between people and knowledge and I believe museums are one path towards that goal.

If you’re willing to put in time and effort, you can access incredible growth opportunities.

While looking for ways to hone my visitor studies skills, I met Fran Mast, a Research and Evaluation (R&E) Associate at the Shedd Aquarium, at a Chicago Museum Exhibitors Group (CMEG)  meet-up. She needed assistance collecting and analyzing data, and I enthusiastically volunteered to spend two Sundays each month at the Shedd. I embarked on the best volunteer experience that I have ever had.

As an R&E volunteer at the Shedd, not only did I have the opportunity to contribute to a great organization, but my social science research skills improved immensely. I underwent extensive volunteer training from which I gained a greater appreciation of the IRB process. While collecting surveys from hundreds of visitors, I observed the ways different survey designs and my own preconceptions can impact sampling. I interviewed dozens of visitors and improved my ability to ask good probes. Overall, I became more observant and a better listener.

Invest in personal friendships.

After a CMEG meeting, I stood outside waiting for an Uber with a fellow job seeker, Filippa Christofalou. I had just received several rejections from jobs and was feeling pretty hopeless. “I’ll never get a job in the museum sector,” I lamented to Filippa. “Why do I keep trying?”

Filippa turned to me and smiled sympathetically, “I get that you’re frustrated. I am too. But, you have a unique perspective to offer. Someone will see that,” she said. “Don’t give up. I’m certainly not giving up on either of us.”

Even when the road is rough, It is comforting to know I am not alone in my frustrations and I have peers who believed in me.

Seek out mentors and embrace their feedback.

Colleen Dilenschneider consistently reminds me why I love the cultural sector. I came across her blog, Know Your Own Bone, when researching visitor studies and exhibit development strategies. I read the blog voraciously and found it incredibly insightful. Curious to learn more about the person behind the content, I looked Colleen up on LinkedIn. When I realized she also lived in Chicago, I got up the courage to shoot her an email and asked her to grab coffee with me. A day later her project coordinator emailed me and we set up a meeting.

When we finally met, Colleen and I talked for hours. We dorked out about data trends in the cultural sector and discussed the manifold reasons cultural organizations need to become more inclusive. Her positivity was infectious and she asked me thoughtful, penetrating questions about my dreams and goals. Her career route was circuitous and fascinating. I left our first meeting feeling more optimistic about the museum sector and my role in it than I had in months.

After meeting Colleen, I asked her to formally mentor me. Now, we meet quarterly to catch up, discuss my career trajectory, brainstorm solutions to challenges I’m facing, and just chat about the cultural sector. I appreciate that she gives gives me honest critical feedback and pushes me to be my best. I always leave my meetings with Colleen feeling refreshed and ready to face new challenges.

Keep networking even after you have the job.

In December 2018, Luci Creative called to offer me a job. It was a dream come true, a moment I had been hoping for since I sat down for coffee with Kiah Shapiro nearly a year prior. While networking is certainly not the reason I got the job, I believe that the fact that I already knew Kiah and a few of the other Luci team members helped my prospects.

However, just because I have a job in the museum sector doesn’t mean I have stopped networking. The knowledge that I acquired and the relationships I developed in the past year and a half have been too significant for me to pass up the opportunity to meet new people. So, please reach out if you’d like to chat! I’m always looking to befriend more of my peers.

IBS Headshot
Isabel Singer is an Exhibit Developer at Luci Crea
tive, where she supports the strategy team in developing content for exhibits and spaces in museums, cultural institutions, and corporations. An active museum blogger, Isabel provides insight into industry trends and interviews experts in their fields. Isabel developed her strong research, analysis, and writing skills while earning her B.A at Yale and MPhil at the University of Cambridge, both in history. She honed these skills by performing audience research at the Shedd Aquarium, creating professional development programming for public historians at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center, and helping the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum improve its interpretation of women. Isabel is also a classically trained vocalist and spends her free time performing with a small world folk music group. Email her at 

Seven Ways Volunteering Can Help Emerging Museum Professionals

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.

Seven Ways Volunteering Can Help Emerging Museum Professionals
By Amanda Hoffman

Our time is the most valuable commodity we can give the world. But after a full day of meetings or a long week at work, offering more of our time to volunteering is the last thing we want to think about. There are many personal and professional benefits to volunteer work that you probably never thought about, like experiences you can’t always gain during your daily work routine. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily hustle of our careers, but I encourage EMPs to take a step back to think about volunteering in your community.

1. Enhance your understanding of the volunteers you work with.

Volunteers are an integral and vital part of many museums and non-profits. For those of us who work with volunteers on a regular basis, we need to understand and acknowledge them – they deserve to feel appreciated and acknowledged! The best way to understand volunteers is to be one. If you begin to donate your time to different organizations, you understand what kind of an impact you have as a volunteer. Furthermore, you’ll notice the efforts those organizations make to ensure volunteers feel valued – like organizational perks, special events, or small annual gifts. That knowledge can help you make the volunteers you work with daily feel satisfied, and when that happens, everybody benefits.

2. Gain a better understanding of your community.

Ideally, everything museums do should benefit their members while reflecting what the community wants and needs in their exhibits, programs and opportunities. By being an active participant in your own neighborhood, you can improve your knowledge of what people actually want from their local institutions. When you donate your time, you’ll work with people you may not have met otherwise, building a diverse network of peers and friends.

3. Develop new professional skills.

You are probably developing skills everyday, but there are certain strengths you can develop outside your office that you might not have the opportunity to advance at your job. If you work behind the scenes in an office setting, consider volunteering in a public-facing capacity to improve your communication skills. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to give graphic design or social media administration a try, but those skills just don’t fit into your workload. Volunteering can allow you to try something new without impacting your day-to-day responsibilities at work. 

4. Determine precise career goals.

Volunteering can you help look beyond your current professional scope or experiences to discover that your true passion could be somewhere completely different. You’ll also get a chance to meet new people with similar interests. Some of these folks will be established professionals; by learning about their career paths, that could help determine your own. And, even if these new acquaintances don’t work in a museum, they’ll be able to give you invaluable advice. Take it!

5. Explore your work place needs.

Since volunteering doesn’t come with the same pressure as a daily 9-5 job, you can utilize this time to figure out what you are want in an ideal work environment. Workplaces are not one-size-fits-all, and it takes serious thought to decide which aspects of a work environment are the most important to you. Maybe you prefer a more informal and independent setting, or perhaps you work better under management that outlines daily tasks and goals. Maybe you want to work at a smaller or larger organization, so you choose to volunteer somewhere that gives you that new scope. Volunteering can help you figure out which style is best for you.

6. Build confidence.

Walking into a job interview or an important meeting with extra knowledge, diversified experiences, and an expansive resume can put you ahead of other candidates. Volunteering can provide you with a sense of purpose that can make you ooze confidence… the best boost for your career and personal life.

7. Giving back feels good!

Museums wouldn’t be where they are today without an active community of supporters. A big part of what attracts people to work in the museum industry is being able to perform meaningful and fulfilling work for the community. And this desire to do something good doesn’t end at 5 o’clock on Friday. Knowing that you’re helping to make your community a more connected place will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Apart from all the benefits volunteering can offer, it is also a lot of fun! I know it can be difficult to add another activity to your already busy schedule, but it will be worth it. Even donating one afternoon a month to a non-profit or charity can change your perspective and attitude in a positive way.


Amanda Hoffman currently serves as the Youth Programs Coordinator at the Tampa Bay History Center. She holds a Master’s in Museum Studies from the University of Aberdeen and a B.A. in History from the University of Central Florida. For more information, contact Amanda at