Friday the 13th begins with the swipe of a Zipcard in D.C. and a brisk run in Richmond. Just after 10:30 am, we’re unpacking laptops, a rough agenda, and fresh ideas in the VMFA cafe. Hot tea fuels a conversation about why we’re there. For Suzanne, it’s desire to experiment, something new, and the possibility of forging a model that will be useful to others in the museum world (and, more broadly, communications professionals in any industry). I’m interested in experimenting too and keenly aware of my luck in landing this opportunity to work directly with someone who does her job passionately and really, really well. She sets a goal: we’re going to hammer out five compelling topics to shape our work together before we break for lunch. Go.
For lunch, it’s adventure time. En route to the Zipcar, we stop to take in Ryan McGinness’s Art History Is Not Linear (2009). This is inspiring for a couple of reasons. It’s a hieroglyphic language culled from art. It’s also a very smart way to frame the collection for visitors as they enter–diverse, iconic, and available to remix in whatever way works for you.
A drive through Carytown highlights Can Can, Byrd’s, Clementine, Bygones. On down Monument to the Fan where Garnett’s Cafe awaits. At Garnett’s we talk about travel, breweries, biking, pickling, and creative museum programming (e.g. Hammer Museum’s collaboration with Midnight Marauders, VMFA’s Faberge Burlesque, the Phillips’s Illustrated Self-Guide) over grilled cheese and black-eyed pea salad (secret ingredient: grapefruit!)
Satisfied and slightly sleepy, it’s time to get caffeinated and back to work. Suzanne directs me on a short drive to Lamplighter Roasting Company in a retooled gas station. Latte and americano arrive in giant mugs, and we set up shop at a picnic table on a closed-in porch fortuitously outfitted with a full wall of chalkboard.
It’s time to settle on a handle and register the blog. This takes some time. I had started the day with half-baked ideas about “PR Apprentice”, which isn’t really what this is about. Suzanne is thinking “muse.” We brainstorm:
*Talking About Art (Suzanne had pinpointed this early in the day as something she loves).
While we both love art, love talking about art, and have jobs talking about art, we realize what we’re really doing together is talking about talking. Telling stories about communicating. Using many different methods. Using strategies applicable to those who wish to communicate about anything, not just art.
Now the juices are really flowing (and caffeine surging). I register the blog. We poke around WordPress. We need more graphics! We’ve been documenting the day in snapshots here and there but what of our masthead? Suzanne pops to the ladies’ room and returns with a flash of brilliance–the chalkboard! People use it to communicate, to teach, to experiment with quick ideas and jot over them just as quickly. The photo shoot begins.
Our final tasks are to retroactively define the day’s topics and to think through what outcomes will deem the project a success when six months have passed. The first is easy enough. We’ve spent the day visioning and dreaming. As for outcomes, the entire point of conducting the mentorship this way is to be flexible, unpredictable, experimental. We agree right away, this is about the journey.