By Kelly Pendleton, IUPUI Museum Studies MA student
On my second day as the Collections Fellow at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, I was let loose, alone, in one of the museum vaults to work on organizing the museum’s 350 plus 2-D art collection as well as updating and correcting their records in the museums internal cataloging system. I was incredibly nervous. I had never handled art before, I had never even worked in a collections space before. I had taken Collections Care and Management my first semester of the program and I tried fervently to remember all the rules we had learned about how to carry art properly, so we didn’t damage it.
I was taken aback at being trusted with these paintings. My mentor had seen my resume, she knew that I didn’t have the kind of background that would have prepared me for this work. I had worked in museums for five years previous to this, but that was on the floor delivering programs to families at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Talk about racial segregation in the 1950’s with children and their parents? I was ready. Carry a painting without destroying it? Help!
However, nervous as I was about damaging property worth untold amounts of money, I got through it (without breaking a single thing I might add). As I plugged along through the museum’s art collection, I grew more comfortable. I learned my own techniques for lifting large, bulky paintings, and learned the accession number to watch out for on accession tags, because it was always incorrect. I figured it out as I went, and to my own surprise, everything was fine.
2020 was a year when everyone had to figure it out as we went along. We heard the word “unprecedented” approximately 1 million times. We learned how to do work from home and how to attend class from home. We learned how to see our friends through Zoom, and we learned how to have socially distance backyard hangouts. Museums are learning to deliver virtual programming, and how to give interns good experience when the world feels so uncertain. It hasn’t been smooth, it hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been perfect. But we’ve figured it out as we go, and I think we all deserve to celebrate that.