I'm A Museum Person

I’m A Museum Person: Sarah Stierch

The National Mall. Photo by Rob Shenk via Flickr.

My name is Sarah Stierch, and I’m a Museum Person.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m currently a Masters student in George Washington University’s Museum Studies program, slated to graduate in 2012. I arrived in the museum world after working many years in the retail and cosmetics industry, deciding to obtain my undergrad and explore opportunities in history, art and culture – three things that often culminate in the museum world. My interest and passion lies in research – I have a curatorial background working in the private sector of fine art and I love sharing of information and working to provide opportunities for those who have not had the chance to have their voices heard.

Work wise I provide historical and cultural research services for private and public institutions. Currently I am providing research services to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, working with a remarkable team to research and utilize the great fine art collection that will be exhibited upon opening on the National Mall in 2015.

My main research work involves Wikipedia and opportunities to utilize the free encyclopedia and other open-source web 2.0 interfaces in museum, curatorial, cultural, collections and conservation practices. Specifically in public art and Indigenous communities. My current goal with my research is to become the first Wikipedian-in-Residence in a Washington based institution.

I live and work in Washington, D.C. and when not geeking out over research I love traveling near and far, eating and drinking great things, collecting art by emerging artists, exploring the monuments, museums and landscape of the District, taking photographs and listening to tons of music…oh, and I live with a fabulous cat named Mersey.

Why do museums matter to you?

Aside from playing the role as repositories for cultural objects and ideals, museums have provided myself and so many others rare opportunities to explore art, history and culture in many arenas. As a young person born and raised in Indianapolis, a city with amazing institutions such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Indiana State Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (among others), I was lucky to not only have internationally acclaimed institutions at my reach, but, a family who loved to travel to historic sites, museums and places. These trips and places helped shaped not only who I am and how I think as an adult, but, provided the influence for me being where I am in my life – which ten years ago I never thought would be possible. And now I have the opportunity to do with museums for others what museums did for me, or, at least I hope.

What is your favorite museum memory?

I have a few…

1) When I was a kid I was in the Museum Apprentice Program at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. This experience changed my life – I worked in the nature area handling snakes (I remember the king snake named Elvis!) and other animals for visitors to pet, then, when that area closed I got to open the exhibit called “What If…?” (it no longer exists). That area had an oceanography themed area, and two of my favorite “kid topics” – ancient Egypt (with the mummy Wenuhotep) and dinosaurs. It was the coolest thing ever in my mind, and I got to meet one of my idols – paleontologist Jack Horner. He autographed all my books. That MAP program and the opportunities it gave me as a young person changed my life, and I credit it for being one of the reasons I’m in the museum world today.

2) From day one of getting a car at 16 I practically lived at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, up until leaving Indianapolis. One year about 50 of us gathered on the grounds, having a picnic surrounded by the gardens and sculptures. Playing bocce ball in front of the Lilly House is a memory I’ll never forget.

3) There’s also the first time I went to the Phillips Collection. It was a religious experience. The Rothko room and Miro’s The Red Sun. Just remarkable.

Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo by Serge Melki via Flickr.

What museum would you love to visit?

The Heard Museum in Phoenix.

What is your dream museum job?

Curatorial work. Again, I love sharing information and working with others to examine and exhibit that information with the public. I also do not want to weigh out opportunities in higher level administration or perhaps working at a non-profit gallery environment as well.

When you think of the perfect exhibit, what is in it?

That’s a rather broad question, I really can’t give a solid answer without getting overly theoretical or frustrated. I must say, in regards to the art world – we now have Thornton Dial feet away from Alexander Calder, things are changing, albeit slowly. I hope I live to see the day when Rick Bartow hangs next to Cy Twombly at a major institution. Overall, there can never be a perfect exhibit, in my opinion.

Who is the funnier museum twitterer…@SUEtheTrex or @NatHistoryWhale?

I don’t follow either. Guess I should now! Museum geek #fail!

What is the most random item you have bought from a museum gift shop?

Historical societies and county museums generally have some weird stuff. I bought a postcard of the world’s largest oldest edible cured ham at the Isle of Wight County Museum and a stuffed pig made out of Smithfield Ham packaging.

Cured Ham. Photo by WordRidden via Flickr.

To test your museum knowledge, what cities are the following museums in? The High Museum of Art, the Experience Music Project, Musee de la Civilisation, the Courtauld Gallery, and the Kuntskammer.

The High is in Atlanta. EMP is in Seattle. I have no clue about the other three without cheating. Boooooo….guess I need to revisit “Museology 101.”

You may have heard about the Month at the Museum contest recently held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. What museum would you move into for a month if you could?

I always wanted to be like Lisa Simpson when she runs away from home and lives in a museum. I’d say the Exploratorium. Those poor people would come into the museum and find crazy interactives that have little scientific value built by yours truly. Or the Met, so I can photograph everything they have and persuade them to release the images into the Creative Commons world.

Out of all the museums you have visited so far, which one is your favorite?

Evil question! Just one? HA! I spent a month interning at Colonial Williamsburg. My internship there changed my life, and makes major impacts on peoples lives in so many ways. I love that place. The American Indian Initiative is groundbreaking and the memories I have from there are invaluable, while there is always room to critique, there are efforts to make a real difference in public history, programming and community involvement. And from a purely fun stand point – an excuse to drink beer out of giant stoneware mugs, say hello to Martha Washington and boo Benedict Arnold is totally awesome. Then, there is the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Whitney. I love those places.

Colonial Williamsburg. Photo by Serge Melki via Flickr.

What is the most bizarre museum you have visited?

I suppose the Mutter, at this point. That place is educational and nauseating at the same time. They also have a great gift shop.

There seem to be a million books and movies set in museums. Do you have a favorite?

I don’t really read much fiction…but oh man, I love Woody Allen films, and in Manhattan.. it’s so classic. I wonder if Woody Allen is a member of the Guggenheim?


Thanks to Sarah for sharing her experiences. If you’re interested in participating in the “I’m A Museum Person” series, send us an email at editor@museumist.com, and we’ll get your story up on the site.

One Response to “I’m A Museum Person: Sarah Stierch”

  1. Jonathan W. Marshall on January 15th, 2013

    The Museum of Meat DOES in fact exist — or at least one does. This museum of butchering, cuts, abattoirs and the like is in rural New Zealand, in the township of Milton, in the South Island. It is a privately run, semi-hobby establishment run out the back of the prosaically entitled “South Kill Abattoirs”. http://milton-district.co.nz/butchery-museum/

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