Can you explain a little bit about the type of work you do here at Cooper-Hewitt?
I manage the K-12 school programs and all tours for the museum. I supervise both the Design Educators, who provide our school audiences with tours and workshops, and the Docents, who provide our public and private tours. In addition, as a member of a dynamic education department, I support our institution-wide programming—this includes local and national professional development programs and events.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The only constant is change! While this can be very challenging, it also ensures that I remain flexible and open to dealing with new situations. For example, the change of moving exhibitions off-site has created some challenges with providing tours. The working solution has been to shift the focus from providing traditional tours to experimenting with an “Ask Me” model, which is more of an informal conversation with visitors about the exhibition. Another change has been having staff participate in the “Ask Me” model and figuring out how to train a group that hasn’t historically been in the role of a tour guide.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
My work in tours and school programming has a wide reach that allows me to engage with every department in our museum. I learn a lot from these interactions and often gain a greater understanding of the work that everyone contributes to make the museum a success. For example, it is always exciting to collaborate with curators on how to prepare our docents and educators to discuss the exhibitions with the general public.
How would you describe design? What is good design? Bad design?
Good design is when something successfully works for its intended user and for everyone else. The OXO peeler, for example, was originally designed for someone who might have arthritis or limited mobility in his or her hands. Yet, it is incredibly useful for all of us who want a comfortable cooking tool that also doesn’t slip out of your hand when it’s wet! I notice something is badly designed when it doesn’t function properly. For example, seeing a door with a pull handle but then discovering that the door only opens when you push.
How has the renovation either opened new doors or posed new challenges for you?
In preparation for the Museum closing for renovations, I was given the unique challenge of developing school programming without a museum location or an exhibiting collection. This challenge opened conversations with colleagues at other cultural institutions who had experienced similar situations. Also, it provided me with an opportunity to ask New York City teachers to identify what they needed from museum programming in their schools. My solution was to develop a single-visit program to help K-12 students explore how design is relevant in their lives. The workshop engages students in design thinking through a brief introductory conversation and a “quick design challenge” that the education department has also used in other programs. The program Target Design K-12: Design in the Classroom, had a successful pilot year of providing New York City with 700 workshops in 180 schools for 17,000 students.
Looking forward, what are you most excited about once the museum reopens?
I am looking forward to seeing how the renovations impact the museum’s ability to engage the visitors in new and exciting ways. A permanent collection will provide a great starting point for visitors taking our public tours, and a renovated education space for our programs will welcome thousands of school children.
What is your favorite Cooper-Hewitt exhibition to date? Why?
I remember the first time I visited the museum in 2009 and saw the Fashioning Felt exhibition. I was completely inspired by the innovative ways that felt was being used. Something I had previously seen as nothing more than an annoying material that clogged up the dryer could actually be used for furniture, clothing, and more! Also, the curators presented such a range of information, including everything from the process of making felt and its cultural significance across the world, to its ability to be customized and how it’s virtually waste-free. That visit set the tone of my experience since joining the staff a year later. Each exhibition has unfailingly made an impact on how I think about everyday stuff by consistently presenting information about the familiar in new and exciting ways.
What was the most memorable moment for you at Cooper-Hewitt?
Earlier this year, I collaborated with our audio/visual specialist team to create a marketing video about school programming. We filmed the program Target Design K-12: Design in the Classroom being taught at PS/MS 124 South Ozone Park, NY. The school was chosen because the staff was very excited about having every class receive a workshop. It was great to see the students’ engagement with the program and to interview the classroom teachers and principal about their experience.
What is the future of design?
Placing a greater focus on how designers are using their expertise to promote and support socially responsible design. An excellent example is the recent, Design with the other 90%: Cities, a 2011 exhibition that presented how designers are working with the urban poor to develop workable solutions to the various challenges they face in their cities.
Finally, if you could redesign anything, what would it be?
I would redesign my air conditioner to be quieter and more energy efficient. Also, it would be wonderful if it could somehow be easily taken apart and stored so I could enjoy my window when the air conditioner wasn’t in use.