It was 1970 when Andrea Stevens became a staffer at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
"I was really fortunate (as most Baby Boomers have been) to have joined SITES at the right time," she mused. "These were the early museum days when no one had a specialty and anyone could learn one. I was hired as the registrar, right out of college, based on my typing and telephone skills. We had a copy machine that 'burned' a single page at a time in a plastic carrier, rotary telephones, a telegram printer, and selectric typewriters with carbon paper sets."
Hit fast forward: Watergate, Roe v. Wade, Vietnam, Three Mile Island, the Iran hostage crisis, the Challenger disaster, MTV, VCRs, PCs (lots of other acronyms), Hubble telescope, the Gulf War, the Internet, Oklahoma City, Y2K, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Twin Towers, Arab Spring (starting to sound like a Billy Joel song), and so on and so forth.
While the world was changing, Andrea was rolling with it, developing and directing strategic initiatives and publications that reflected a universe in hyperdrive. Over the years, it's been her job to keep SITES relevant via publications that are graphically striking, content rich, and worthy of coffee tables around the nation and, yes, the world. There's undoubtedly a copy of "Moscow: Treasures and Traditions," a sumptuous 1990 catalogue detailing 200 works of Russian art dating from the 15th to the 20th century, on a bookshelf somewhere in Moscow.
"It was March 1989, toward the end of the USSR (of course, we didn’t know it at the time). I was in Moscow with two Smithsonian colleagues for meetings with curators, writers, photographers, and other Soviet museum colleagues to finalize logistics for the book to accompany this high-profile exhibition."
Russia's capitol city was just one of many destinations on Andrea's publications bucket list. She's also been on press in Japan and England, and here in the U.S., she's led projects in Nebraska, Louisiana, and Ohio. Without question, Andrea prides herself on the person-to-person connections she's made on each one of these trips--whether pitching book proposals in Germany or over lunches in Manhattan, Andrea's on a first name basis with more printers and designers than a teen has followers on Snapchat.
But she considers working on the book "The Precious Legacy: Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collections" her crowning achievement. "It was our first trade book with a major publisher, and it was reprinted three times, translated into French, won a major literary award, and was completed in less than six months. I got to spend two weeks in Prague with the curators and photographers, and learned a lifetime’s worth of Judaica in very short order. We also produced a set of four exhibition posters, one of which features a secular image of Prague--that one has been framed in my house since 1982!"
Even after 45 years, Andrea's innate sense of style and what works in print are rules to live by at SITES. "What do you think of this?," we often hear colleagues say as they hand off drafts of marketing pieces and mailers. "I strongly believe in the value of ink on paper," Andrea declares with a sense of purpose. "I hope that SITES continues to balance the best in digital communications with excellence in print. In either case, it's important to reflect the times, the technology, and the audience."
So back to the present day, to our offices at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC, where it's a bleak winter day and where we're already missing the collective knowledge of Andrea's years of service. For her, it's on to the next chapter, but it's no spoiler to note that the ending of her most recent book is a happy one. "I didn’t need a Facebook quiz to help me figure out my 'dream job.' This has been it. "