Friday, May 25, 2007

Faces of the Addison

My first job in the museum field was here at the Addison in 1991 when I was hired as a Gallery Attendant for the weekends. I manned the front desk and stood guard in the galleries. While was I beginning to learn how a museum worked, I also learned how the museum is seen through our visitors' eyes and what an important role the Front Desk personnel and Gallery Attendants have in their experience. They are the "faces of the Addison," keeping a vigilant eye on the safety of the artwork on our walls while greeting our visitors with a smile.

The Front Desk personnel (see right) need to be instant experts on whatever is hanging on our walls. As with most Addison staff, they have multiple jobs: they greet, they give directions, they run the cash register for the gift shop, and most importantly, they field a variety of questions: "Where is Eight Bells?" "What exactly does 'gouache' mean?" "Do you have anything by [fill in artist name here] in your collection?" And, of course, the perennial classic, "Where is the bathroom?"

The Gallery Attendants must walk that very thin line between being friendly to our visitors but being firm in their observance. When an Attendant says, "Please do not touch the artwork," it must be said in a way that does not offend the toucher but gets the point across. I was an Attendant during our Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing retrospective in 1993 where, basically, no one could touch any of the walls anywhere. And it was difficult for visitors to resist feeling the textures the multiple layers of applied washes had created. I had the most success by explaining why it was important not the touch the walls. Colors and chalk could smear. Fingerprints could appear. It was a matter of preserving the artwork so the next viewer can enjoy it just as much as the first.

Which is essentially why those of us in the museum world chose this field: to preserve the artwork for future generations. Our "faces of the Addison" are just as important to that cause as the Conservators and the Curators. And...they do it with a smile!

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