I’m not sure what I expected of a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a Smithsonian exhibition planning meeting. I think if you would have asked me at the time I would have told you that I envisioned men and women in well-tailored suits and pencil skirts with tiny glasses and stern expressions, sipping coffee, pen and notepad in hand, speaking in short intelligent quips too witty for my little brain to wrap around. But this was not what I found when sitting among a group of professionals who work daily in what is arguably one of the most prestigious museums in the world. Instead of haughty intellectuals I found that these men and women were incredibly relatable. More experienced? Definitely. More intelligent? Quite possibly. But real.
Not only were they down-to-earth, but the problems they faced as they worked towards putting together an exhibit that would open to the public in 2014 were eerily familiar. Project timelines had been extended as they realized that more time was needed to complete certain stages. Some aspects of the project still uncompleted appeared to have been worked and re-worked multiple times as each result continued to prove unsatisfactory. “Where would the money come from?” they asked. “How do we gauge visitor responses?” This meeting taught me that whether your museum employees one person or dozens, whether it attracts people from around the world or around your city, some problems are universal. Things always take longer than you think they will, you will never have enough money to do everything you want to, and communicating with visitors is vital but difficult.
Yes, sitting in an office which boasted a window three times the length of my bedroom overlooking the Mall in DC was impressive and yes, there were times when the vocabulary was a little above my head, but this meeting testified to the fact that a museum is a museum and no matter where we are located or what our budget looks like, we must all find answers to tough questions in our line of work.