Maya Wright '04 has a job that she loves, and is also succeeding as a graduate student. It's a good gig, if you can get it.
Wright, who studied art history at Earlham, landed a position at the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art in Denver not long after graduation. It has turned out to be an excellent entrée into museum work. The Kirkland boasts an excellent international collection of decorative art as well as the work of Colorado artists. It is a small museum, only seven rooms and eight staff members. So Wright has opportunities to learn about all aspects of museum work.
"I think it's a unique situation," she says. "I really get to do a little bit of everything."
She plans events, organizes mailings and even works the front desk on occasion. Poised and well-spoken with natural enthusiasm for her chosen field, Wright seems like a natural for her role as the museum's Marketing and Membership Coordinator.
Wright expresses an infectious enthusiasm for her professional life as well as for her graduate studies the University of Denver, where she is pursuing a master's degree in art history with a concentration in museum studies. Now in her fifth year at the Kirkland, she negotiated a 30-hour week to accommodate her studies.
She plans to write a thesis on portraiture, an interest that dates back at least to her Earlham days. She participated in a May Term off-campus program focusing museums in London, and notes that the National Portrait Gallery was a particular favorite. But the entire program was a pivotal experience for Wright.
"We visited 21 museums in three weeks, and something just clicked for me," she recalls. "I said to myself, 'This is it. This is what I have to do.'"
After five years on the staff of the Kirkland, she is more committed than ever to having a career working in art museums. For one thing, being surrounded with art objects means that there is always more to learn.
"At our museum, we have more than 3,300 objects in seven rooms. I've been there for five years, and I don't think I've seen all the objects."
Unusual among art museums, the Kirkland packs each room with art works, pairing furniture, paintings, ceramics, metalwork and other objects in an intimate setting. Touring the museum is like visiting a home in which virtually everything one sees is a work of art. The collection includes pieces by such well-known artists as Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The museum also showcases the museum's namesake, painter Vance Kirkland and other Colorado artists. So Wright's key message to potential museum visitors is, "there is always more to see."
"The challenge is to get people to understand how a museum can be part of their lives beyond a once-a-year visit," says Wright.
To that end, the Kirkland sometimes hosts talks given by artists whose work is featured in the museum as an opportunity for patrons to learn more about the art. Wright also plans regular social events for museum members in the gallery. The museum was also featured on a recent episode of the PBS program "Antiques Roadshow."
"The events I plan let people see the museum in a different way - with snacks! The goal is to make the museum a more integrated part of their lives."
Just as Earlham's challenging educational program prepared her to succeed in graduate school, Wright can draw on a wide variety of Earlham experiences in her working life. She notes that she draws on practical experience with organizing mailings that she gained during her time as a student worker in the Admissions Office. She also honed her writing skills and her ability to work with people during her college years.
Wright points out another aspect of her Earlham education that has served her well.
"Because Earlham is small and because the faculty and staff encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning, you have a lot of opportunities that you might not have at other schools," says Wright. She points out that she was involved in two Ford/Knight student-faculty research projects that blended her interests in art and Quakerism, but also was able to pursue a variety of extracurricular activities, including singing in choir and acting in plays.
"What I learned is, if you're willing to work for it, almost anything can happen."
Like working a job you love, and going to graduate school, too.
Learn more about The Kirkland Museum at kirklandmuseum.org