A quick jaunt back in time to explain how this project began. I had interacted with Suzanne a handful of times over the past few years at industry events and most recently on an office field trip to VMFA for a collegial discussion about the communications and marketing strategy behind its recent Picasso exhibition. Soon after, I decided to seek a mentor outside of my organization and immediately thought of Suzanne. Among other qualities, I had been struck by her ability to convey her genuine, sincere personality within her professional role, which I personally find quite challenging. (Marketing is, after all, about positive spin, which can feel slick or disingenuous.) I had also found her discussions about inciting a flash mob pillow fight and organizing a burlesque program at the museum smart, fresh, and inspiring. In late December, I sent Suzanne an email. She responded immediately. Here’s our exchange:
From: Cecilia Wichmann
To: Hall, Suzanne (VMFA)
Good Morning Suzanne,
First off, a big congratulations on VMFA’s spot on Kennicott’s 2011 Top Ten list! I treasure the uncommon opportunity you gave us to investigate Xu Bing’s work in progress on the parking deck and regret not finding time to see it complete.
One of my professional development resolutions for 2012 is to seek mentorship in our field. I so admire the expertise, creative experimentation, and personal style you bring to your work and would benefit immensely from an opportunity to learn from you. Would you be willing to work with me for six months in 2012, around your schedule, in this capacity?
For my part, I would be delighted to do the work it takes—get to Richmond regularly for in-person meetings, assist you on projects, attend recommended events, read recommended resources, or simply organize a list of topics and connect with you about them by phone or e-mail. I recognize your busy schedule and appreciate mentorship on any scale you can accommodate.
Of course, I also fully understand if it’s not a commitment you can take on at this time, in which case I’m happy simply to express my admiration and wish you a happy holiday season.
From: Hall, Suzanne (VMFA)
To: Cecilia Wichmann
Subject: RE: mentorship
I would be delighted to work with you! There may be an forthcoming more formal mentor process soon within PRAM. I propose that we establish a time period for this process, along with a schedule, goals and deliverables, and some kind of protocol which can be a record of our experience as well as possibly a model for future mentorships.
I will let you shape a schedule with whatever in-person visits you think are necessary (we could Skype…). Frankly, after seeing your big NYT Degas piece, I wonder how much you really need a mentor!
But it would be my great pleasure. Merry Christmas!
Chief Communications Officer