Today, SITES announced Myriam Springuel as its director. Myriam is a familiar face around SITES, having first worked here from 1986 to 1994 as director of education and associate director, and again as interim director since February 2014. Myriam has worked in the museum field for more than 30 years, leaving an indelible mark that she’ll undoubtedly continue to build. Myriam sat down with us to talk about her inspirations and goals for the SITES team under her leadership.
Q: What drew you into the museum field originally?
MS: A passion for museums. I started visiting museums as a kid. I grew up in D.C. and there was nothing better on a summer day than to ride the bus with my brothers to explore the Smithsonian and the National Gallery. We explored, we learned, we felt smart. As an undergrad I was working on a degree in political science when I realized you could work in museums and said, ‘That’s what I want to be doing.’ I ended up with a double major in political science and art history, and some museum internships that helped me understand that I am most passionate about the role of museums in life-long learning.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self before she was about to start her museum career?
MS: Museums are powerful institutions because of the objects, ideas, and knowledge they hold. You have to work in a way that respects why people come and enable them to get everything out of the experience that they hoped for. But museums have not done enough to make everyone feel welcome and to be the inclusive institutions they can be. I would tell my younger self to make that an even stronger commitment. And I would tell my current self to develop exhibitions that help host venues across the nation be inclusive.
Q: Throughout your career, what changes have you seen in the museum and exhibition fields?
MS: We may not be sufficiently inclusive, but museums are more inclusive than when I started. We know much more about visitors, how they learn, what they want and expect out of a museum experience. But we still don’t know enough about people who do not come. And more importantly we need to find ways to work with them so that they feel welcome and are part of the museum’s overall experience. While those are issues we have been talking about since I started in museum work, more people are raising questions and working towards creating inclusive organizations – in terms of our staffs, collections, research, exhibitions and programs. We still have a long way to go to live up to the social values we claim as a field but there are plenty of museums and colleagues who are leading the way. We have to create environments, for both visitors and staff, where different points of view are respected and encouraged.
Q: Art and exhibitions mean many things to many people. What do exhibitions mean to you?
MS: First and foremost, exhibitions are experiences that people choose to participate in – often standing on their feet. It is an experience in which the museum is trying to communicate the stories embedded in the collection, the research and the mission. These experiences generally happen in public spaces associated with the arts, with culture, with history or with science; while our host venues range from museums to libraries, or cultural centers to science centers, they are all places that tell meaningful stories about what it means to be human. The experience in a successful exhibition is one that can enlighten, entertain, empower, cause reflection or pause, curiosity or puzzlement, or start a conversation or a life-long quest. Exhibitions are a powerful tool to unlock the knowledge embedded in our collections, our culture, and our search for understanding.
Q: What is your grand vision for SITES going forward?
MS: The vision for SITES is to build on an extraordinary record of almost 65 years of producing exhibitions that have made a difference at host venues across the United States and the world in partnership with a wide array of collaborators. We’re looking to build on our strengths. First and foremost, we want to hear from exhibitors and potential exhibitors about the kinds of exhibitions they would like to see from us, and the kinds of materials they would like us to develop to support those exhibitions.
We have the opportunity to continue to build on a long tradition of creating exhibitions focused on culture and on ethnic history that some museums may not have the time or resources to develop. We want to continue to help exhibitors use our art, science and history exhibitions to deepen the ways in which they engage with their communities. We are looking at ways to continue to provide support to host venues so that they, in turn, can meet their mission.