Oct 7, 2019
Want to work at a museum? Learn the ins and outs of the museum world in our interview with Victoria Gerard, the Vice President of Collections and Special Exhibitions at the Bowers Museum.
For a transcript of this episode, email cgupodcasts at gmail.com and include the episode title.
Victoria Gerard: I think just to be a 21st century human these days, it's like the world is smaller, so just being able to have relationships with people face to face, where everything is done online, is increasingly more important.
Rachel Jimenez: I'm Rachel Jimenez.
Megan Elledge: And I'm Megan Elledge.
Rachel Jimenez: Welcome to How Did You Get That Job, a podcast from Claremont Graduate University about successful careers and the stories behind them.
Megan Elledge: Victoria, thank you so much for being here. We're excited to chat with you today.
Victoria Gerard: Thanks so much for having me. It's always great to come back to Claremont.
Megan Elledge: So, when I told Josh Good, who is the Associate Professor for Cultural Studies in History at CGU, that we were making a podcast, he instantly recommended you. And after reading more about you and your career, I definitely see why. At a young age, you're already a director at the Bowers Museum, but I know that path wasn't easily, especially in the museum world, where the morbid joke is, you basically have to wait until someone dies to rise up in the ranks, and a lot of that time, you have to work for free.
Megan Elledge: So, can you give us a brief breakdown of the journey that led to you becoming a director at the Bowers Museum?
Victoria Gerard: Yeah, I'd be happy to. We'll just say, as you mentioned, the museum field is kind of a weirdly difficult field to break into. I think that that maybe is changing. Since I entered the field, I think there's a lot more talk about inclusion, and equity, diversity. But beyond that, I think a lot of people in my age group are starting to be frustrated with the experience of being so exclusive, when a museum is kind of an inclusive community space.
Victoria Gerard: So, for those of you listening, maybe in your journey there'll be some more flexible times ahead. But you know, I was thinking on my way, my drive over here to Claremont about my journey. And as a child, I didn't have much exposure to museums. I grew up in New York City, but kind of in a family that didn't always have the means to do those kinds of things, or we were just kind of focused on saving for college, and it was kind of a luxury to do something like a museum.
Victoria Gerard: So, when I had gotten to college, I wasn't even thinking about working in museums. It wasn't on my radar. And I was really focused on a political science major and becoming a speech writer. I think that was the dream at that time, and I wasn't happy, and I didn't feel fulfilled in that. But I had been doing a work-study job as a gallery assistant. It kind of just happened and it felt right. I started doing that pretty early on in the college career.
Victoria Gerard: And of all things, an environmental science professor kind of became a mentor. It was a typical core, as Villanova called it, a core arts and sciences class, so I took environmental science. I think I was at the end of my sophomore year, and I was still feeling lost, and this professor kind of shone the light, like, well, you know, you really like history, you talk to me about it a lot. Museums are research centers, you're kind of thinking about academia.
Victoria Gerard: And that blew my mind, because I never really thought about a career in museums at all, like I said. I think there was a push towards an academic career for me from my advisors, from an early point, when they kind of identified me as having a certain aptitude. So, I had been taking history courses, and I just decided to kind of change my focus and declare as a history major to see where that would lead. And I was not abandoning the academic career. I was staunchly thinking that I'd go right to a PhD program after my undergraduate work.
Victoria Gerard: Because, I should say, I was educated on the East Coast, born and raised, and I think things, especially in the museum field, are a little bit more traditional, let's say, there. So I was pushed towards that path, even though I was starting to do internships. I was in the greater Philadelphia area, so it was a great place for history and for cultural centers. So, I was able to intern and work for awhile in Independence National Historic Park, so I had some government park service experience. There's so many different old institutions there, the libraries.
Victoria Gerard: And I did a fellowship in New England, at historic Deerfield, so everything was very much so like very traditional American history focused, and I was focusing on public history at the time, which at that time, the discipline was really focused on history in the public space, and memory, and how the public interacts with it. So, what better for being in a place like Philadelphia, where you're surrounded by history.
Victoria Gerard: So, I ended up specializing in early American federalist period furnitures and ceramics, and was pursuing that, again, through these fellowships. And I had talked to a lot of people. As you mentioned, I got that old adage, if you want to be a curator, someone has to die. People were telling me, "You're not going to make a lot of money in this field, so you have to be committed to me." And I, I think at a early age, was having this kind of crisis still about this field, which is how I entered it, and I felt that although I enjoyed my specialty academically and pursuing that at the PhD level, that I just didn't see any substance in it for me anymore.
Victoria Gerard: So, while I was doing that graduate work, and I had pursued it, I decided that I wanted to do something different, and if I was going to commit to the museum field, that I had to experience it in a different part of the country, with a little bit of a different focus. So, that personal and professional interest, plus some other things going on in my personal life kind of spurred me to move to California and circumstances aligned. And of course, what did I do but applied to UCLA for another PhD program, which I am happy to say I didn't get into, because I ended up at Claremont a couple years later.
Victoria Gerard: But when I came out to California, I worked for a artist, I was doing tutoring, just really trying to break into the museum circuit here, doing anything I could, which is not easy, as we mentioned. And I landed at the Bowers as a volunteer of sorts, since I was not in school anymore, and was lucky enough to get hired on a temporary basis after being a volunteer for awhile, and I really grew there. I've been at the museum for almost 10 years come this September.
Victoria Gerard: So, it's been a really great place to be, and through that work experience, I found what I was looking for, obviously, to commit to this field, which was that things are a little bit more flexible, definitely in the SoCal arts scene, but in the museum world, and I think people in California in general are willing to take more risks about content, and social kind of issues, and institutions.
Victoria Gerard: And I really, where my heart was lying was administrative and management perspectives in the museum field, and I learnt about the arts management program at CGU, and the rest is kind of history.
Rachel Jimenez: So, that's an amazing breakdown of over 10 years of your past, so I want to dig a little bit deeper, because you said a lot of amazing things, and I'm sure our audience is going to want to hear more. So, you mentioned that your first job that was kind of in this field was being a gallery assistant when you were in college. Can you talk about how you landed that, even if it was just kind of serendipitous?
Victoria Gerard: Yeah, so I needed to do work study. It was offered to me as part of my financial aid package. I went to Villanova University for undergrad, and that weird grad work time I mentioned. And so, I was scanning the opportunities and gallery assistant was on there. It seemed really interesting. Again, I had had this underlying interest, but solidly in history. Like I said, I wasn't someone who was into European fine art, and going to museums, and taking art history in high school. That was never me. So I wanted to learn more about that.
Victoria Gerard: And there was this really wonderful older woman who was the assistant director of the gallery. I think it was her pseudo retirement job, and she was a really great mentor and kind of opened my eyes to the very small but storied gallery at Villanova. And they were getting a new database for their collection at the time, so they actually have an art collection, and they would do these special shows they take proposals for from living artists.
Victoria Gerard: And so, just as a work study student with no experience, I was transferring collections records from PastPerfect to an actual certified made gallery software. So that is a really crucial skill to have in this field and in understanding. So, I kind of luckily stepped into that.
Rachel Jimenez: It sounds like you had a great mentor there. Was that before or after the environmental science teacher recommended-
Victoria Gerard: Before. That was before or at the same time.
Rachel Jimenez: Around the same time? Okay.
Victoria Gerard: Someone also said to me once. I think it was a friend of a professor that worked somewhere in Philly. He connected me, and he had been in the museum world. And he said, "I'm going to tell you what someone told me, that this field is serendipity, Victoria. It's all serendipity." And you hear a lot of people's stories in this field, little things like that happen to lead you.
Rachel Jimenez: So, is there any advice you could give, if it's all serendipity, how could someone follow that? But I also, I'm looking at your background. It sounds like you said something about trying to break into the museums once you got to California, so can you dig into that? I'm sure there were some actionable things that you did, that other people could replicate.
Victoria Gerard: Sure. Well, I think it's serendipity with a little help from yourself, a lot of help from yourself, you know? And it seems like such a vast field when you're standing on the outside of it, but compared to other industries, it's a very small field, even when you consider the colleagues we have internationally. And there's always kind of that weird six degrees of separation thing going on with people.
Victoria Gerard: And so, just knowing other people, I even hesitate to use the term networking, but knowing other people and talking with people is really important. I never met a museum professional that doesn't like to talk about themselves or help people. They tend to be really nice people, and it's a labor of love. It's a nonprofit industry, specifically for museums, not the arts at large always. But if you're doing this kind of as a career, it means that you have a passion for education, or history, sharing that with the public, what have you. So, professionals are generally pretty open to sharing their stories and talking.
Victoria Gerard: So, you just have to keep talking to people, and meeting people, and going to conferences, or exhibits, or whatever, and keeping yourself sharp on what's going on in a field that large, or just to explore. You know, if you don't want to be an expert on what's happening in LA museums, just what interests you and seeing what's going on. So, that's really important.
Victoria Gerard: And it is, from my perspective, for a collections or curatorial job specifically, it is still an academic position. You need to have a strong basis in writing and research, and every museum is a little different, which is maddening. It's part of why it's so hard to break into, and everyone's looking for some different qualifications. But you still need to have your feet grounded in that academic discipline. So, if you're already in school thinking about this, you're doing that. And school, graduate school, undergraduate, it prepares you to have the language to speak to the people that you might want to reach out to about this field.
Rachel Jimenez: And when you're reaching out, does that look like a formal informational interview, like what we recommend, or is it just asking someone to lunch, or an email, and you just ask them some questions in the email
Victoria Gerard: Sure. I think it's always best to start out with a more formal approach. I get a lot of requests like that, and if someone just reaches out to me without any chatter beforehand about why, I have to always kind of skeptical, just because I also get a lot of people that are trying to get me to exhibit their artwork, or people that might want to make a donation to the collection at the museum.
Victoria Gerard: So, and a student, especially a graduate student knows no age limit. So, it's always kind of nice to know the intentions upfront, also because I keep mentioning nonprofit, labor of love, that comes with being overworked and not having big staffs, and that kind of thing. So, for anyone listening, the person you're emailing will appreciate it if you just lay it all out, this is who I am, this is why I'm contacting you, this is why I'd love to chat with you. And then you can see where it goes from there.
Rachel Jimenez: Right, perfect.
Megan Elledge: So, is that what you did for the Bowers museum, with volunteering? I mean, [crosstalk 00:13:08]-
Victoria Gerard: So, with the Bowers, I had been to the Bowers on a visit previous to moving to SoCal, and it felt like the right place. I mean, Orange County isn't as diverse in its arts and culture offerings as LA. Now it's getting there, but at the time I felt like it was the best place for me to be to grow professionally, as the largest museum in Orange County.
Victoria Gerard: So, I submitted an application and just kind of bugged them every week until they got back to me, which is something that I'm sure other people in this podcast have mentioned or will mention to you, is like that persistence factor. And now being on the other side of receiving those applications, I totally get it why I didn't hear right away, but you have to stay top of mind or people are busy.
Victoria Gerard: So I kind of called, and called, and called, or emailed and emailed, and finally the application got to the person it was supposed to get to, and again, the rest is history. But you know, persistence while being professional.
Rachel Jimenez: So now that you're on the other side of that, are there people that call and call, or email and email, and do you ... One, does that happen, and two, if it does happen, do you see that as annoying, or are there some that are annoying and some that you're like, wow, this person's persistent, I need this person working here?
Victoria Gerard: Well, so, I honestly rarely see as much persistence as I would like to with some things. I mean, there are people I have seen persistence with maybe that have interned and then they make an effort to keep in touch, which is also nice, because it's one thing for you to just be listed as a reference, and it's another thing for people to at least try to keep up a relationship with you before asking you for something.
Victoria Gerard: So, that's a different kind of persistence you need once you finish an initial internship opportunity, to get you to the next step. But people can be very persistent, and we have a really great person that manages the applications, that if someone has emailed a couple times, she'll send them my way. But sometimes, we just can't take as many interns as people would think. It's a full time job to manage them as well.
Victoria Gerard: So, if it seems like someone is really interested, my team and I try to at least meet with them, and then you establish that connection. So, just about respectful, and like I said, professional. I think that's the key.
Megan Elledge: Got it.
Rachel Jimenez: So, you mentioned, I think this is a funny story I want to dive into a little bit more, that you applied to UCLA for the PhD program and you're happy that you didn't get in. But then, how did you end up at CGU? So, were we just the second best or can you talk about why CGU?
Victoria Gerard: No, so, I didn't know about the CGU program at the time, so, of course, as a East Coaster, my now husband at the time was enrolled in USC for grad school, and I was just kind of tooling around and found this culture and performance PhD at UCLA. And for the life of me now, I really can't understand why I would do such a 360 from like a very traditional, I told you, like early American material culture program to this culture and performance. I don't know. But it was kind of like a wild quarter life crisis or something.
Victoria Gerard: But you know, I think I was just trying to throw things at the wall and seeing what would stick, and just kind of get involved in an academic environment. And actually, it's an even funnier story, because my now husband, at the time we weren't married, he started out at CGU, in like a politics or some kind of master's program he had, politics and economics or something. So, I had been here before I moved out here when we were dating and that sort of thing, but I just never thought, I saw the computer museum in the building. Like, I just never put two and two together.
Victoria Gerard: But I'm glad, because after being rejected by UCLA, I had some time to really, again, kind of explore more of a work environment out here, and I mentioned the arts and culture related jobs I was doing, but not everything else I was doing to make ends meet out here, and it got me familiar with the Orange County and greater LA landscape for sure. I learnt how to drive on the freeway, which was also really horrifying.
Victoria Gerard: So, at the time, the arts management program was really looking for people that had a certain amount of work experience, and I'm glad, I can't remember why or how it popped up, but it did. It was before Google was feeding you things and recommending you things, so I did find it on my own, but I was able to find a great more deal of more experience to bear into the program, to the benefit of myself and my colleagues, you know, hearing from my colleagues.
Victoria Gerard: So, that's what attracted me to the CGU program, was the fact that I would be bringing professional experience. It was in partnership with the Drucker school, and Peter Drucker is so huge in nonprofit management, in management in general, but especially in the nonprofit world. So, I had heard of him. Our president at the Bowers always talked about Drucker, because he led a retreat for our board.
Victoria Gerard: So, it felt like fate again, a serendipitous twirl of events. And you know, I really, as I mentioned, wanted to try to get more experience to lead me to a more administrative path in museums. I was starting to get interested in how all the cogs in different departments worked together to produce this program for the public. And then, on top of that, my job at the time at the museum was starting to manage these complex international partnerships we had, and budget for these exhibits.
Victoria Gerard: And I could always hear my dad's voice in the back of my head as an undergrad, like, "You should do that summer business minor that they have at Villanova. We'll pay for you to do that." I'm going to write and I'm going to ... I'm not going to use that business skill as a PhD, Dad. It will be totally fine. So, it was also attractive because it was nested in the school of management, and the curriculum was based in finance, and marketing, and all of these business skills I didn't have as just a straight arts and culture person.
Victoria Gerard: And I will say that even though the program was definitely aimed at the time at not necessarily you being able to be an accountant, or a financier, it was aimed at you be able to manage a CFO or an accounting clerk, whatever. It gave me the skills I needed to make a better budget to propose an exhibition, or to be more accountable for the expenses for an exhibit.
Victoria Gerard: And that is what propelled me, not to this job I have now, but to an associate curator, I think it was Associate Curator of Special Exhibitions and Research, because I was able to professionalize those skills that as an arts and culture professional you learn on the job instead of in school. So, the grad program at CGU gave me advanced arts skills, built on those skills I already had, but it also provided me a baseline foundational business practice.
Rachel Jimenez: Absolutely. For our listeners who may not know who Peter Drucker is, can you just talk for two seconds about that?
Victoria Gerard: Sure. Peter Drucker, we call him the father of modern management. There's the Drucker School at Claremont kind of dedicated to his principles of management. I think it's easy for us to think in this world, especially as millennials or younger, although I had those terms, as management being something easy. But if you talk to your parents or other bosses that are baby boomers or matures, my dad always says that it was like a real wild, wild west management style when he was in the work force as a young man.
Victoria Gerard: So, I think people like Peter ... Well, Peter Drucker himself for sure, and then people that followed after him massaged these ideas of how to effectively manage your employees to get a desired result. But the reason that it's such a big deal at Claremont is also because he had a broad kind of transdisciplinary view of business and management, and how different sectors can work together to each other's benefit.
Victoria Gerard: So, at the time, I think the Drucker School, and probably still very much is ahead of its time, having this art business and arts management program in a business school, and all different kinds of other programs to stay true and pay homage to Drucker's beliefs.
Rachel Jimenez: Right. And then, one more question about Peter Drucker and the Drucker School, but how do you think having that background and what you learnt through Peter Drucker has impacted the career that you have today?
Victoria Gerard: Sure. You know, this is one of the things that makes me most grateful for my graduate degree. Now that I do manage a team, I was able to retain this information. But I mentioned very briefly about older generations, and management, and I think younger people, anyone younger than 30 maybe or 35 and younger, get a bad rap about being un-manageable, quote-unquote. But I learnt a lot in graduate school about managing up, and managing down, and managing across, and just kind of the mindset of what makes a business work, and how do you kind of manage the culture of an organization. What was it, organizational culture, I guess, was a class that I took, and that was really incredible.
Victoria Gerard: And again, as a working professional, I could take actual situations in the journal we had to keep, and kind of try to dissect them and manipulate the circumstances. So, no matter what field you're in, I think you need to be able to effectively manage everyone in the work environment, and it kind of sounds tricksy in a way, but it's not. It's just management of relationships.
Victoria Gerard: I think often times younger people don't really understand that you need to put effort in above, and below, and across to succeed, and Drucker was really open minded about those kinds of things, and has really been the number one key to my success, is learning how to manage those relationships through those philosophies.
Rachel Jimenez: Beautiful, thank you.
Megan Elledge: As you know, I'm a history student at CGU and I've noticed history students are getting more and more interested in learning business practices. Why do you think this trend is happening?
Victoria Gerard: Well, I think a couple things are happening, and I can speak to. Over 10 years of experience in the field have shown me that the gap between a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a for profit organization is growing less, and less, and less. So, tangibly, from a museum perspective, you see things like the museum of ice cream, the museum of pizza, or things that are called museums that are really just pay for play, you know, to get your selfie taken, experience some, sorry but I'm going to say it, really bad art. You know, do it for the gram.
Megan Elledge: Right, exactly.
Victoria Gerard: And personally, I will say, I think the sprinkle pool at the museum of ice cream was the most brilliant art installation, so props to whoever did that. But the business world has blurred the line of what a museum is, and you have a couple of other things going on.
Victoria Gerard: When I entered the museum field in the recession, I was lucky enough to get that job at Independence Hall, I mentioned. But a lot of people weren't. There was a lot of cost cutting in curatorial departments especially, which were so massive, and museums had to really fight for people's disposable income. So, that created a world of lackluster exhibitions, which has kind of spiraled down to these engagement opportunities.
Victoria Gerard: Also, when I was coming out of undergraduate, public engagement started being a term, a buzzword that we would talk a lot about in museums, and before then, the museum experience was very passive. So, you also have this confluence of, if you want to say, museology kind of changing to be more of an active experience, but also the expectations of visitors and just the people in this world at large being more active and engaging because of technology, and social media, and the recession, and if you're going to spend money, it'd better be worth it, that sort of thing.
Victoria Gerard: So, museums have kind of, maybe not now but in between the recession and now, seen a boom in attendance because of some of these things, because of an increase in disposable income. So, I think a lot of places, and I'm not talking about the big guys like LACMA, and The Getty, Guggenheim, but a lot of solidly medium sized museums kind of had to operate more of like, okay, how are we keeping the doors open.
Victoria Gerard: And when you're in that mode, because you don't have a lot of contributive revenue, right, you have to really think about return on investment, and who's paying the electricity bill, while also the challenge of a 501(c)(3) is maintaining a certain balance of your expenses and your accounts that are all focused on programs.
Victoria Gerard: So, I think all of that is to say it's become necessary because of those things that have happened in the industry, to understand business a little bit more. But the very frustrating things about museums, I mentioned before, is every organization is structured differently, so there are still places that say, and even I have felt this and seen this, because even though I've been at the Bowers, I have interviewed and attempted to grow with other organizations, the master's in management is not always seen kindly by traditional museum folks.
Rachel Jimenez: Wow, interesting.
Victoria Gerard: Yeah, so, I have a lot of curatorial skills, a tremendous amount, but I don't have that PhD. So if I'm applying to a traditional chief curator job, I would likely not get that job at most places because I do not have that PhD. And that business skill is kind of looked at as a cheapening of that academic background that you need.
Victoria Gerard: And of course, I have the greatest amount of respect for people with PhDs, and for academia as a institution, but I don't always think that you get the full picture. You can't just finish a PhD in art history and then be able to run a curatorial department.
Megan Elledge: Have you considered getting a PhD?
Victoria Gerard: I have, many times off and on. I make a joke, but not really a joke, about going to grad school for this Claremont program while I was working full time. Like, I could never do that again as a mother, and now as a senior level staffer, because it was really difficult and I did it before children and before I had as much responsibility at work.
Victoria Gerard: I think if I really wanted to, I could make it work. But again, I think you can kind of sense, with the trajectory that I've been on, that I don't think that quite frankly, the PhD will be worth my investment of money, because it is so expensive to go back to school, and I don't think I ever will have one of those very traditional curatorial jobs again.
Megan Elledge: Got it. Yeah, I was just thinking you'd be such a powerhouse if you had the PhD with the arts management and that management background.
Victoria Gerard: Maybe when I retire.
Megan Elledge: There you go, yeah.
Rachel Jimenez: So, what advice would you give someone that wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Victoria Gerard: Sure. I think number one advice I always feel obligated to give because it was given to me is to make sure that you understand it's not a high paying gig, especially in the curatorial realm or collections management realm, so just kind of know that. What I tell people that ask me that question is, intern as much as possible in different experiences so you know that this is what you want to do, because it's not as glamorous. I mean, it's glamorous, I love it, but it's not what you see on TV, as nothing is, right.
Victoria Gerard: So, the internship is a crucial first step, kind of like your entry level job, but do it for you. And I would also say the same for graduate school. It's a product you're buying essentially, an investment in your future, so make sure that it's the right program for you, that is actually going to lead you to the job that you might want, and get all you can out of it.
Victoria Gerard: At that same time, while being a student, really use that student status to reach out to people. I always feel a little bit more inclined to speak to students or recent grads, because I was there and I understand the angst of trying to figure out where you're going and if something fits for you. So, reach out to as many people as you can, and go to as many of those events that are sponsored by Claremont for you, grant writing workshops and everything, because it's really important.
Victoria Gerard: And just try to develop a professional persona that is still you, but that's comfortable with talking to strangers and meeting people at those events, because it's crucial to work together in this industry, the museum world, and I think just to be a 21st century human these days. It's like the world is smaller, so just being able to have relationships with people face to face, where everything is done online, is increasingly more important.
Rachel Jimenez: Absolutely. I've noticed in the art world, I've come from a business background strictly, without the art side that you have. And so, business people are always taught to network. But then, getting to know a lot of our art alumni, I realized that they are a powerhouse. Like, the MFA program and the arts management program, they network like no other businessperson I've ever seen.
Rachel Jimenez: So, I think if you have that mix of the MBA networking and the marketing, or the arts networking world, and you really understand that, it can be very powerful. But it is very important in the art world.
Victoria Gerard: Yeah, and I think it seems hard and scary, but it's just, especially as an adult, if you're going back to school, it's just being yourself and being comfortable doing that. And again, when you're a student, it's a safe space to experiment, because people know you're a student, and I kind of feel like it's lower risk.
Megan Elledge: With that said, when you were a grad student, what did you do to make genuine connections at events?
Victoria Gerard: So, for grad school, for me, I'll focus just on my West Coast grad school experience, it's a little different, and Claremont related. Because I was working, it was so hard for me to go do a lot of the events, but every time we had a speaker in class, I had my business card out and was ready to give it to them, not so much just to say like, "Yes, I got this card, another person on my LinkedIn," but just actually to genuinely connect with that person.
Victoria Gerard: Because the speakers that were coming into classes were incredible, and a lot of people don't go up to them and say, "Hey, thank you so much, blah-blah-blah." Or if they give you their email address on their slide presentation, just send them a note, because kindness, just kindness is important too, and they'll remember you, saying, "Hey, thanks so much. This is what I loved about your talk, blah-blah-blah." It makes them feel good, like they did something worthwhile. And ultimately, again, that's just a human kindness, I think, that gets you far in this industry for sure.
Victoria Gerard: So, that's important. Also, if you're doing any kind of job, even if it's not related to the arts, just kind of thinking about the people you're working with, vendors or clients and how your relationships are structured with them will help you put that into practice in your desired arts career, I suppose. So, that's really important.
Victoria Gerard: And if you're not a student or you're just started out as a student and you want to get an internship or something, the burden is on you, right? You've got to do the work to find the place you want to be, talk to the right person, to hound them if they haven't gotten back to you about the application, professionally, and just really figure out where you might want to experiment, because no one can do that for you.
Rachel Jimenez: Right, taking initiative.
Rachel Jimenez: Are you a CGU student or alum that's looking for career advice? If so, don't forget that you have lifetime access to free career counseling through CGU's career development office. Simply call 909-607-9022 or email email@example.com to make an appointment today.
Megan Elledge: All right, let's get to our on the spot questions. Okay, so, what has been your biggest career mistake?
Victoria Gerard: Oh, that is a hard question. I don't know. I'd like to think, this is a canned response, but I'd like to think about every mistake as an opportunity. But what comes to mind is, I think it was while I was in school, maybe 2014 to 2015. I was managing a really big project. That was the first one that I had, and the budget just got out of control because I wasn't managing the client relationship as well as I could be.
Victoria Gerard: So, we ended up paying a significant more in shipping because ... It's very complicated, but let's suffice it to say that the person on the other end of the phone was new at this job as well. And so, sitting where I am now, it would've been incredibly easy to negotiate a different contract even, but you've got to make those kinds of mistake.
Victoria Gerard: That is just like a very specific career mistake, but I think maybe on the broader scale, I think taking myself too seriously, especially as an undergraduate, like especially starting from there. Because I think as you get older, you learn that life's a little bit more flexible and not as high pressure as you think it is, and I think if I was a little bit more relaxed, although it did get me out here and into what I have now, I could have had a little bit more freedom to experiment with different internships and that sort of thing.
Victoria Gerard: But I was always a little bit high strung, about making ends meet, and I had the need to know what I'm going to do. Like, I need to know, and you never know what you're going to do. So, I wish I could go back and tell myself, "You'll never know, so just go with it."
Rachel Jimenez: Right? Take a breath and keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, right?
Victoria Gerard: Yup, yup.
Rachel Jimenez: So, what is your favorite memory from attending CGU?
Victoria Gerard: I have a lot of favorite memories, but I think my favorite memory was overall, Laura Zucker, who was the former Head of Arts Management, had a class, the Fundamentals of Arts Management. Maybe that's what it's called now. But regardless, it was kind of like a big round table class, where you really did everything you might as an arts manager in the safety of school. And in a group project, you had to create an organization throughout the semester.
Victoria Gerard: And my group of two awesome classmates, we came up with a organization called Concert Road Trip, which was basically like putting musicians and artists on a bus, and driving them around to public, kind of like flash mob performances, which I kind of feel like I'm dating myself, because that wasn't very popular in 2013.
Rachel Jimenez: I still want to be in a flash mob even though that's gone away. That's a life goal.
Megan Elledge: I know, right?
Victoria Gerard: And it was just kind of fun. Laura was a very serious and amazing businesswoman, and she scared all of us at some point, and we had one idea which she was just really hard on us for, and it was like the best ever experience because it really, again, in a safe place, helped you realize the true nature of like, this is also a business and working through it. But Concert Road Trip and everything that went along with it is my favorite memory of grad school.
Rachel Jimenez: Awesome, thank you.
Megan Elledge: So, what's the best career advice you've ever received?
Victoria Gerard: The best career advice I've ever received, again, from several different people and just from myself, is to not be so serious. And I have received that in more of a passive way. There's a book that my director, Peter Keller, gave me when I was in grad school. Can't remember the title, so sorry, listeners, but I'm sure you can find it through Google. It was basically, I think, the experiences of 12 museum directors. They were interviewed by someone.
Victoria Gerard: And Peter has been a mentor for me for many years, and he said, "This is related to your schooling. I got this. I think you would really like it." And one of the female directors, which are very few and far between, in that book said something basically to the effect of, if you don't realize that the workplace is just a game, then you're doing it wrong.
Victoria Gerard: And that kind of trivializes it because you do have to work very hard, but it is, again, like I said, going back to that Drucker talk about managing relationships, and if you can't show up at work and be like a nice person, and love where you are, and make it be like a game, I think you are doing it wrong.
Victoria Gerard: So, I've got her name written down in my planner, like in my notable quotable section, and even though I got that passively from many people, that was like the active experience of getting that advice, was from that book.
Rachel Jimenez: Perfect, and if you could send us that afterwards-
Victoria Gerard: I will.
Rachel Jimenez: We can put it in the show notes for everybody.
Victoria Gerard: Yeah, really interesting book.
Rachel Jimenez: So, what's the worst career advice you've ever received?
Victoria Gerard: I kind of want to say that the worst career advice I've ever received is what I've been repeating, which was someone has to die for you to get this job, because I think it talks about everything that's wrong with the field. And maybe that was more of an East Coast mantra, because it's very much so true in my experience at the time, could be different now. It was like an old boy's club in my industry, my specialization.
Victoria Gerard: And I don't think that advice like that helps anyone or helps the field move forward, and I think there's a lot of issues at play right now in the museum world, especially about salary, and in the academia kind of spectrum as well, about paying your dues, and you don't make money until a certain point, and blah-blah-blah. And I think that way of thinking doesn't help move the industry or make the people working very hard for the future of the industry, it doesn't incentivize them.
Rachel Jimenez: Right.
Megan Elledge: So, favorite CGU faculty member.
Victoria Gerard: Well, not just because he recommended me, but definitely Josh. Josh and I had kind of a funny meeting, because I took his, I don't remember the class, but it's like the intro to museum studies class. I needed an elective, and I set up a meeting with him because I said something to the effect of, you know, can I be in this class? I have all this experience and I don't want to annoy you or anyone else.
Victoria Gerard: And so, here I am, probably like this overconfident grad student taking myself too seriously as I talked about, and Josh was really nice. And yeah, come in, whatever. But as the semester wore on, I felt like he really ended up respecting my opinion as a professional, and allowing me to share things that he probably didn't count on being able to discuss, because of my experience and the real world kind of element.
Victoria Gerard: And it was really great to be respected that way as a graduate student and as a professional. And I think that's what's so special at Claremont. Another favorite Claremont memory is during commencement, when you are walking in and all the faculty is clapping you in. I've been to so many commencements, and I have never seen that, and I always felt like that was a huge respect moment. And that's so very true to what Claremont Graduate is about, respecting you as an adult, as a scholar, as a equal, and I got to see that through Josh, so, thank you, Josh.
Rachel Jimenez: So, last question, what is your wildest career aspiration or dream?
Victoria Gerard: Okay, well, something I really like to think about is, you know, the copyright office, let's say, just for example. At one time, the US copyright office had to get two copies of everything that was given a copyright, and I feel like I have this dream of these government warehouses with tons of like, dusty boxes and things left uncataloged, although I don't know, but I assume uncataloged.
Victoria Gerard: And that's my museum nerd dream, is just to go in and catalog all those things, and work with those kind of collections and government archives, not because it's anything secret, like the X-files or anything like that, no. It's just kind of like museum curatorial collections neurosis of wanting to organize stuff.
Rachel Jimenez: Well, serendipity has been a theme of this. So now that you've put it out there on this podcast, maybe it will come true.
Victoria Gerard: Anyone needs me to organize their dusty secret warehouses, you know where to find me.
Rachel Jimenez: Well, thank you so much. This has been an excellent interview. We really appreciate it, and I'm sure it will bring a ton of value to our listeners.
Victoria Gerard: Thank you, always happy to do it and help students, so it's always a pleasure.
Rachel Jimenez: Rachel here. The book that Victoria mentioned is titled Eleven Museum Directors: Conversations on Art & Leadership by Michael Shapiro. Also, I wanted to give you an update. Since our recording, we have some delightful news. Victoria has recently been promoted to Vice President of Collections and Special Exhibitions.
Megan Elledge: If you enjoyed this episode and want to support this podcast, here are three easy steps. One, subscribe to the podcast. Two, leave us a review on iTunes. Three, know someone who could benefit from this podcast? The greatest compliment you can give us is sharing this with others. From Studio B3 at Claremont Graduate University, thank you for listening. We look forward to seeing you back here on How Did You Get That Job.