Don’t Miss: TEDxRVA


Suzanne has been busy creating over the past several months–not only in her role at VMFA, but also as part of the core organizing team of Richmond’s inaugural TEDx event. On March 22, 2013 (less than one week from today), the open forum explores the concept CREATE with 30 talks on the symbiotic process of inspiration and creation. While tickets to the full day event are sold out, Live Stream will bring all 30 talks to you. Links will be available at

What’s in a name?

Erin Wilhelm, friend and project director at the Collaborating Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI) at Georgetown University, recently reached out to a mentor. Today she guest posts about her bicoastal experience with Carol and wonders if “mentorship” is the best term for their ongoing, mutual support system.

Inspired by the creativity of this blog and its authors, I sought my own professional mentor early this year. I even borrowed some of the language Cecilia wrote in her invitation e-mail (seriously . . . inspired!)

In previous jobs, I’ve had assigned mentors and found these forced relationships dissatisfying for various reasons, and mostly because the interactions felt as compulsory as the relationship. There was no motivation to talk other than a company policy that said we should.

Recently, I began a new job at a new organization in a new field. I welcomed the challenge and opportunity to learn from all the newness. After the first months’ intense learning curve, I gained a working stride but realized there was still a lot I didn’t know. So I had motivation. Finding a mentor could help me structure the next phase of my learning. But I was skeptical . . . there were those prior bad experiences, and my new organization didn’t have a formal structure. It never occurred to me, until I read Cecilia and Suzanne’s blog, that I could just pick someone who I admired and ask!

So I did. I asked Carol, a woman I worked with only a little, but with whom I exchanged many an e-mail and “met” on occasion via Skype. (She lives and works in San Francisco, and I live and work in D.C.) Carol has great energy, humor, and brains. And we both love yoga and our dogs, so I knew there would always be something to talk about. Plus, she has worked in my new industry, for nearly 30 years, loves her career, and is successful. When I reached out to her, I was neither so in love with my work nor feeling successful, and I thought it could help to talk and work with her. Hoping her passion would rub off . . .

We structured our talks formally at first – with e-mailed agendas and “assigned” reading material. But over the weeks and months, we gradually found a rhythm of hour-long chats every week or so, discussing process and people skills, new or difficult concepts in our field, and how to maintain sanity – and a life – in the midst of a 21st century career. These talks gave me reassurance, direction, and new tricks to try.

In all, this relationship has been satisfying, and we’ve achieved many of the goals we set for ourselves. But I’m not sure that ours were typical of mentor-mentee conversations and so, when I refer to Carol, I usually say “colleague,” “coworker,” “coach,” or even “friend.”

I wasn’t the student diligently taking notes from the teacher. We’ve had the opportunity to exchange ideas in deep and meaningful dialogue. As a result, we both feel the time invested has been worth it.Of course, if I were to formally describe this relationship, I would still call Carol my mentor – because it describes our interaction with a term other people readily understand (and isn’t that what a word is for?). But to both of us, the relationship has been more. The word that best captures Carol’s role in my life is “collaborator,” but that word has been overused in popular professional literature to the point of meaninglessness and this mentor-coach-colleague-friend of mine definitely has meaning to me.

Erin Wilhelm, Georgetown University

Catalysts for Professional Growth

In our last official Talking About Talking exchange, Suzanne and I queried the word mentorship. Does it capture the reciprocal, open-ended network of relationships our project seeks to engage? An article in the Harvard Management newsletter–360 Degree Mentoring–explores this concept without proposing new terminology.

What does and does not work for you about mentorship, the word and the concept? What alternative terms, if any, might apply to relationships that have catalyzed your professional growth? We would like to hear your stories, of mentors, muses, peer teachers, protégés, social networks, et al. Please post comments or e-mail to cwichmann (at) phillipscollection (dot) org for consideration as a guest post.

Finale with Cafe Cubano, Ikat, and Lots of Talk

With Suzanne (and flowers) on D.C.’s Spanish Steps en route to The Textile Museum

On Friday, Suzanne and I begin our finale at the Washington Post‘s annual museums luncheon. We listen to presentations from advertising and editorial arms of the Style section and catch up with a handful of peers from D.C.’s museum community. The most interesting takeaway is a sense of openness and accessibility. Editors outline parallels between museums and the newsroom with sincerity and humor. The question and answer period launches a worthwhile discussion on interactive strategies and tools in museums.

Back at the Phillips, I share points of pride–our profound Antony Gormley exhibition, surprising installation of John Cage watercolors, recent Villareal acquisition (an infinite, digital Rothko?), The Migration Series. Touring offices, we stop to say hello to Ann (my boss and longtime mentor), who invites us in to chat. She poses a question: at the end of six months, what do you each take away from this exchange? Suzanne replies that benefits span the professional to the personal. She has increased familiarity with key platforms, received positive feedback from peers at AAM, made a friend. I’ve grown in confidence, gained insight into communications processes at a different type of institution, made a friend. Our impromptu answers, of course, only scratch the surface.

Next stop, recaffeination (some things don’t change). At the new Tryst at the Phillips cafe, Suzanne tries the cubano and I opt for iced americano. We have an extended conversation about our current work projects (press trips, strategic planning, art, artists). We also talk about Suzanne’s earlier life as a textile artist and conservator.

4:15 and time to squeeze one last adventure out of the day. Tentative itinerary involves a jaunt to H Street, NE, to introduce Suzanne to an evolving D.C. neighborhood and see Villareal’s show at Conner Contemporary, but when we realize she has never been to the Textile Museum we happily change course. A short walk up the Spanish Steps through Kalorama and we arrive with 30 minutes to spare. The Textile Museum represents a formative, museum experience for me (I visited regularly with my godmother as a child), and it’s a pleasure to be back with Suzanne. She brings a practitioner’s expertise and wonder (and enlightens me as to how the beautiful ikat piece we’re staring at was made).

Suzanne will soon sprint to catch a 5:50 train back to Richmond, but on our walk to the car we focus on what’s next. How do we extend the benefits of our experience? Does “mentorship” describe what’s valuable in our relationship? It has been so exciting because it’s reciprocal, catalytic, creative. We start brainstorming alternate terms with little success. After all, people understand “mentorship.” It has history and context. Would our exchange be useful under a different name? With that open question, and a hug, we say farewell.

Noon Hangout: Media, Networks, Continuing Ed

UPDATE: Due to technical difficulties we have rescheduled this chat to Wednesday, June 13–10:30 am EST. Thanks for your patience and hope you’ll join us then.

May has come and gone but the Media, Networks, & Continuing Education exchange is still on! A new hangout time is in the mix for Monday, June 11–noon EST. Suzanne now has webcam access in the office so we’ll take advantage during our lunch breaks and hope you’ll join us. To do so, visit where you’ll find a hangout underway. Participate between now and then by posting questions and links here and/or on our Google + page.

This topic is rather free form. Some areas we plan to address:
*Media Relations
*Reading lists
*Professional associations
*Professional events, conferences, trade shows
*Tech trends

Of particular interest to me at the moment–press trips. I’d like to learn more about informal, regularly scheduled visits to check-in with press contacts in other cities, as well as best practices for offering trips domestically or abroad to an individual or group of journalists to seed a story.

Taking Stock

May was a busy month for both mentor and mentee. Suzanne opened Maharaja: The Splendors of India’s Great Kings (on view through August 19), and I prepared to open Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme and Antony Gormley: Drawing Space (both through September 9), as well as a new museum cafe, Tryst at the Phillips. To manage the sheer volume, we gave our May mentorship exchange a miss and took a little break from blogging. But silence can be deceptive. Throughout the month, mentorship was especially on my mind as I noticed changes in my work, evidence of Suzanne’s guidance and ideas sparked by our conversations. Some highlights:

  • I packed my latest press release with hyperlinks, program highlights, and relevant citywide events
  • Accessibility and welcome is the core of a summer ad campaign I’ve been involved in, which positions the Phillips as the “place to be” and features extended hours every Thursday night (social networks are fully integrated)
  • We paid it forward with a guest post about mentorship on the Emerging Museum Professionals blog
  • I now augment press releases with timely blog posts (coordinated through a new layer on Google calendar)
  • Plus, spring yielded a flourishing first vegetable garden for the Wichmann family. I’d be remiss not to note Suzanne’s encouragement on the work-life-balance front.

Continuity of Operations

Within 24 hours, I completed something of a crisis boot-camp–AAM’s crisis communications webinar and a Google hangout on the subject with Suzanne and my colleague Amy Wike.

The webinar focused on PR crises, like news of an institution’s financial mismanagement, corrupt leadership, endangered visitors, or perceived betrayal of the public trust.

Our hangout explored crisis planning and management more broadly–the structures an institution puts in place to ensure operations continue in the event of disaster, from snowstorm to pandemic to act of terror.

Both approaches were valuable, and takeaways overlapped:

  • know your crisis team–enfranchise senior officials responsible for leadership, personnel, finances, facility, security, information systems, legal, and collections
  • inventory communications tools/anticipate disruptions–run scenarios in which all platforms function (e-blasts, media calls, press releases, tweets, status updates, homepage alerts), but plan for a world without internet or phone service
  • create an information release grid–chart your constituent groups (gov. officials, trustees, members, staff, media, general public, etc.), identify the communications channels that best connect with each, and sequence your message(s)
  • site-proof your plan–keep all components (key contacts, release grid, etc.) in a secure, digital space (e.g. Google docs) and maintain strategic hard-copies off-site
  • stay on guard–anticipate, plan, and monitor potential issues all the time, while crises can still be averted or managed
  • keep track–craft a situation analysis and refine it as new information emerges; log (and respond to) all media inquiries and document posts to your social networks