My internship at Bethel Woods is pretty much everything I was hoping it would be. I’m having a great time and tomorrow Collecting Woodstock: Recent Museum Acquisitions opens! Here’s the link to the press release.
My primary role in the exhibition prior to the installation was to contact donors with an object in the exhibition to get their Woodstock stories, learn more about the donated object or photograph, and find out what they think the lasting legacy of Woodstock is. There have also been questions tailored specifically to the object that was donated and even on what the donors have previously submitted in terms of their Woodstock story, some had already provided pages of memories upon donating the object(s). Two donors submitted over 8 pages of memories each! I also asked each donor how it felt to have his or her object go on exhibition at the Museum at Bethel Woods.
With the information I gathered, I wrote individual donor labels that are going on to the Donor Stories wall in the exhibition. We all know that sometimes the stories behind objects give them life, and now everyone who goes into the exhibition will get to know more of those stories. Some also submitted photos of themselves in 1969 and today; I think this component gives a lot of character to the donor wall. Overall, I had a really good response rate in contacting donors. Only one out of 28 never got back to me. The responses were all really positive, which is something I hoped for because it has revealed that the donors believe in what the museum is doing and feel that their objects have gone to the right place. Some donors have described it as their objects going home. I wonder if it’s the special nature of the museum, or the experiences that these donors had at Woodstock that make them feel this way. Has anyone else had responses like that to an object being donated to a museum?
Regarding the roughly 61 objects/photographs in the exhibition, I researched many of them so that I could interpret them for the museum audience. I wrote the extended text on their labels for all of them, in addition I also wrote the intro panel, end panel and the panel introducing the donor wall. Whereas the donor labels (minus some editing) was basically a solo task, I feel that here is an appropriate point to discuss how awesome it is to work as a part of a team. I work primarily with three people, Robin Green who is the head of collections and also the assistant to the director, Wade Lawrence who is the museum director (although that nowhere near begins to describe all that he does), and Margaret Hughes who is the education director. Before I wrote really any of the labels, Margaret and I sat down and discussed an interpretation plan, and after I wrote all of the labels she was the first one to edit them. Then I got them back, looked them over again, and sent them to Wade who edited them to fit the physical labels and overall polish their language a bit. Then Robin, Margaret, Wade and I looked at all of the labels again in their proper layout to go over them with a fine-toothed comb, and I must say that I am highly impressed with the final product.
With those done, printed, and mounted, I spent the last week and a half concentrating on installing the exhibition. That same small museum team painted walls, mounted labels and objects, adhered vinyl lettering, and sewn. We also have had lighting installed by another vital member of the museum staff, IT technician Paul Hein. Lighting definitely could not be done without him; he also installed our projector for the movie theater we built. I also can’t forget how in just one day the housekeeping staff will make the exhibition gallery look as if nothing messy had ever occurred in it, no painting, drilling holes, or cutting wire. If there is one major lesson I’ve gotten in small museums, it’s how everyone is really important to making everything run smoothly.
I’ve gotten to do everything this summer, from research to contacting object donors to working on Past Perfect to exhibit installation. I’ve spackled holes, painted walls and even created my own ethafoam T-shirt form. I also wrote captions for some of the postcards that will be in the museum store. I really don’t do the same thing two days in a row. It’s absolutely wonderful. I still might be undecided in what aspect of museums I want to go into, but I do know that I want to end up in a museum where no day is the same as the one before it.
As I said earlier in this post, the exhibition I’ve been working on opens tomorrow!! There will be a post shortly after that with a short photographic time line on how quickly a small but dedicated staff can transform a space.