Archive for the 'Staff Profiles' Category

Adventures in Tweeting

As an individual of a certain age, my relationship with social media has been tenuous at best. I am of the generation that did not have email until college, and even then, it was so new that no one really used it; I did not even access the Internet until I was in graduate school! I also grew up playing on metal playground equipment over concrete surfaces… perhaps you can guess my age.

I recall hearing about Facebook maybe ten years ago from some of the Gibbes college-age interns and thinking, “wow, Facebook sounds annoying,” and I avoided it completely for a few years. However, as a point of reference, I grew up in the Chicago area, which means that I have an entire lifetime of friends, relatives and experiences that are separate from my current life in South Carolina. At some point, the lightbulb went off that Facebook was an easy way to reconnect with people from my past; and it’s fun to see what people look like, who their husbands and wives are, what careers they chose, how many kids they have, etc. I joined Facebook in 2003 and will admit that it has become a daily part of my life; however, Facebook was as far as I wanted to go. I do have a Linked In account but it seemed necessary for professional connection and the truth is, I don’t use it much or utilize its networking components. Thank you to everyone who has “endorsed” me on Linked In. I don’t know what that means but I thank you.

social media platforms

Between Facebook and Linked In, I felt satisfied with my social media interactions. I recall hearing about Twitter about five years ago. With its 140 characters and hashtags I again thought, “why do I need to do this?” I am sure I am showing my age but the nuances, etiquette and immediacy of Twitter was just not something I wanted to dive into; I did not intend to ever tweet. For years I was able to say, “sorry, no Twitter account,” and I survived proving that it is possible to live a fulfilled, socially connected life without Twitter… really! Fast forward to September 2015 when the Gibbes suddenly found itself without a Communications Manager, a position that had recently handled the Museum’s social media accounts of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While the Gibbes ultimately made the decision to contract out marketing needs to the fabulous Lou Hammond & Associates, keeping up with social media was not part of the contract. As a result, our staff did what we always do, stepped up to handle the situation. We discussed social media offerings at a meeting and several staff members expressed interest in taking on the extra responsibilities. Becca Hiester, our Curatorial Assistant, graciously agreed to handle the Gibbes Facebook page and Amanda Breen, Membership Coordinator, volunteered to do Instagram postings for the Museum. But what about Twitter? Director, Angela Mack, asked, “who wants to tweet for the Museum?” and the silence that ensued was deafening. I really thought our younger staff would jump all over this but the pressure to tweet and hashtag constantly and be clever in 140 characters and represent the Museum well and not sound silly or make typos that 4000+ people might see was a seemingly overwhelming responsibility. Also, the fact that our entire staff is already working on overdrive to get the Museum open by the end of May 2016 contributed to the fact that the Gibbes Twitter account was left without a champion. And then, as is often the case with me… my mouth opened and the following words came out “I’ll try Twitter.” WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I think I literally stunned myself, but before I had a chance to utter another word, the entire staff response was “Great! Thanks! Done.”

Ok, maybe it wasn’t a complete verbal anomaly that I volunteered for Twitter. I have, in recent months become intrigued by this medium as it is talked about at EVERY museum professional conference I have attended over the past few years. There are sessions about how to Tweet for your museum, how to hashtag, how to use Twitter to engage millennials, how to use it to promote exhibitions, how to connect, how to open doors. It is just everywhere and I have had a growing sense over the last year or so that this was something I should at least understand and learn about its value to the 21st-century museum. Twitter is not going anywhere and neither am I; we need to be friends.

Gibbes Twitter feed screenshot

So now I had the opportunity to learn about this type of social media on behalf of my institution without the pressure of having my own account. Fine, time to dive in and tweet! Lasley Steever, Director of Public Programs and Special events, who had some experience with Twitter, helped me get logged into the Gibbes account and gave me a brief tutorial on how it all worked. I will admit that the first time I looked at Twitter I experienced temporary paralysis and immediately thought, “WHY did I say I would do this?” Unlike Facebook which seems to move at much slower pace, Twitter updates come pouring in by the second. I recall sitting in front of my computer for an hour (good use of my time right?) watching tweets roll in from the 400+ entities that the Gibbes already follows and being mesmerized by the variety of posts and hashtags and retweets. After watching the feed for a while, I began to get extremely paranoid about what I would tweet, because whatever I wrote, there was the potential for literally thousands of people to see it! What should I tweet about? On any given day the Gibbes has multiple classes and programs going on. We have events coming up. Should I tweet about those and “tag” people involved? Should I make up hashtags? I didn’t even understand the whole hashtag thing. My questions and fear of tweeting something silly continued, so I closed Twitter and went on with my day. However, I could not ignore it for long. I had to get a tweet out as the Gibbes had been in a Twitter silence for weeks due to our change in staffing. I finally reopened the application and thought, “ok, I’ll tweet about something I know, something I am living with every day,” the Gibbes renovation. I posted a picture of the outside of the Museum with scaffolding still up and put some sort of hashtag on it and made a comment about renovation progress and hit “Tweet,” and then closed the application to move on with my day. Wouldn’t you know it, when I checked back later that tweet had been retweeted and “liked” and the Gibbes had gained a bunch of new followers. This initial success made me realize that tweeting really wasn’t as a big a deal as I was making it and there was no need to put pressure on myself to send out the perfect tweet! The more I began to tweet (about the art collection, about the renovation, about the new collection storage space, about our programs) the more I began to realize that the beauty of Twitter is the immediate engagement. Each bit of information pushed out there touches one of our followers in a different way. Some are interested in the building renovation and some are not. It does not matter, it is the fact that we are making the effort to communicate with everyone!

Gibbes Twitter feed screenshot

Back to present day. I am still handling the Gibbes Twitter account and those of us working on social media have received some training on how to use the various applications more effectively. I have been on the road overseeing the return of our art collection from off-site storage sites and have admittedly not done a lot of tweeting, but I will get back to it soon. I still get a thrill when someone retweets something I have posted, or if other entities tag the Gibbes account and engage with us to share their excitement about our renovation or new logo or great press we have been getting. Every now and then I decide to be more proactive with the tweets as well. One day I posted a lovely picture I had taken in the cypress swamp at Caw Caw Interpretive Center and tagged Charleston County Parks mentioning that is was easy to see where Charleston artists get their inspiration for many of the landscape paintings in our permanent collection. This tweet led to a retweet from Charleston County Parks and a direct engagement/conversation about possible collaborative programs. THIS is the power of Twitter! I get it! I am not intimidated by it anymore and feel empowered to tweet about all kinds of things on behalf of the Gibbes; someone out there will be interested!

I am still a Twitter novice at best and it is difficult at times to get regular posts in (as I have a few other projects to juggle now… ahem… the unpacking and reinstallation of our entire art collection) but I am doing my best. So if you are a Gibbes Twitter follower now you know who is behind the tweets. If you follow us, THANK YOU… and please know that every retweet and “like” on our posts gives me inspiration to tweet more! Actually, I need to go update Twitter now. Thanks of reading!

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration and voice of the Gibbes on Twitter

Staff Resolutions for 2016

2015 has been a wonderful year, and we’re grateful for the support from our members, donors, volunteers, board members, and corporate partners—a community coming together to make the arts in Charleston shine. We asked the Gibbes Staff to share some of their resolutions for the Museum in the New Year. We’re calling 2016 “The Year of the Gibbes,” with so much in store as the Museum plans to reopen its doors this spring. We cannot wait to invite you into the newly renovated building to view the reinstalled collection and special exhibitions, and to participate in our roster of exciting programs and events. Wishing you a Happy New Year full of creativity and inspiration!

—The Gibbes Staff

Erin Banks, Creative Director
–Establish a new Gibbes logo with the help of Gil Shuler Design.

–Launch a new Gibbes website, created by Blue Ion.

–Gather new exhibition images to use in our print materials!

John Westmark exhibition opening

Photo by MCG Photography

Rebecca Sailor, Curator of Education

–Enjoy good food and drink at the new Museum Café.

–Reopen the Museum with exhibitions, programs, and events that excite the Charleston community and visitors alike.

–Have a successful six weeks of Summer Art Camp for the first time ever in the building.

Summer Art Camp 2013

Photo by Carolina Photosmith

Becca Hiester, Curatorial Assistant
–Bring all of my friends in town on a tour of the museum, my own personal Museum Hack. Some of my friends have never been to the museum before (even if they grew up here!), and I need to spread the love!

Gibbes exhibition opening

Photo by MCG Photography

Jennifer Ross, Director of Development

–First and foremost, achieve our goal of $13.4M for the capital campaign to renovate and restore the Gibbes.

Gibbes Capital Campaign Thermometer

–Welcome back our community—both visitors and long-time supporters—to the Gibbes, the oldest museum building in the south, this coming spring.

–Engage visitors in our center of creativity with world-class exhibitions, lectures and programs.

Lasley Steever, Director of Programs and Events

–Establish an Artist-in-Residence program with outstanding contemporary artists whose work contributes to a new understanding of art in the South.

–Provide great programs allowing visitors to fully engage with the visual arts through lectures, performances, tours, and classes.

Gibbes Museum Distinguished Lecture Series, 2015

Photo by MCG Photography

Jena Clem, Special Events Manager

–Have the museum booked with private events every weekend when we reopen.

–Grow our staff to support the increased programming and events we’ll be offering.

–Be featured as the number one event venue in Charleston, South Carolina/Southeast.

Laurie Clark Wedding photo cred: Whimsey Photography

Photo by Whimsey Photography

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration

–Execute safe return of 10,000 pieces of art from off-site storage locations to the renovated Museum spaces.

–Harmoniously work with Museum staff and contract crews to unpack the art collection and reinstall in new galleries in an extremely tight time frame.

–Remain calm, cool and collected over the next few months in order to successfully manage all that needs to be managed to reopen of the Gibbes! Eat fewer Tic Tacs to manage stress.

–Celebrate our beautiful new spaces and improved access to the collections in a BIG way once the Museum reopens with interactive, unique behind-the-scenes tours and programs.

–Share the Gibbes success with museum colleagues across the state and the region through continued, active involvement and leadership in professional museum organizations.

Gibbes Collection on the move

The Gift of the Gibbes

I’ve been working at the Gibbes for a little over a year now and I’ve been sharing my love for this fabulous institution with family and friends. I’ve taken my sister to parties and my mom to lectures. I encouraged my niece to take summer camp and some friends to take a studio art class with me. They all loved it! So this holiday season I decided to give the gift of the Gibbes to my Aunt Julie: I bought her a membership to the Gibbes (and a bottle of wine).

Becca and her sister Julie Foster celebrate La Belle Epoque

Becca and her sister Julie Foster celebrate “La Belle Epoque” at the Gibbes on the Street party in May.

Gibbes CFO Jim Dixon, Becca, and her friend Hannah Hosemann, at the 1858 Prize Unveiling Party in September.

Gibbes CFO Jim Dixon, Becca, and her friend Hannah Hosemann, at the 1858 Prize Unveiling Party in September.

Aunt Julie and I are very close. She is my mom’s only sibling, never married or had children, and has always loved to travel. As a young adult she traveled to amazing places with her aunts, going to Egypt, Alaska, Hawaii, France and Italy (to name a few). Over the past few years we’ve started travelling together and have enjoyed visiting museums, among other things, across Europe. Our first travel experience together was while I studied abroad in Venice, Italy. She and my mom came for a week and we had a great time exploring the city and even ventured to a local soccer match. That was an experience. Our next adventure together was to the motherland in Poland with my mom and some of their cousins. We all had a great time eating pierogi and learning the language (or at least trying).

Aunt Julie and Becca enjoying a whisky tasting at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland.

Becca and Aunt Julie enjoying a whisky tasting at the Glenfiddich Distillery in Scotland.

The next year she found a tour to London called “Theatre in the West End” with Road Scholar (if you don’t know, this is a tour company that caters to the retired set). I told her she needed a travel companion and she said she’d love to take me along. We haven’t looked back since! We’ve been on organized tours and also toured on our own to Cornwall, England and Scotland. Most recently we went on a Danube River Cruise which was an amazing experience that took us to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. The two of us have had a blast tasting regional specialties, admiring old churches, attending performances, exploring grocery stores, and, of course, visiting all different types of museums. Some museum highlights include the London Transport Museum, the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow (home of da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine), the Culloden Battlefield in Scotland, and the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest.

She has given me so much over the years, especially a taste for adventure, a full passport, and a love for museums. She has shared her passion for travel and many of her travel tips. She has also inspired me to have a very close relationship with my niece, and I hope one day to take her on wonderful trips when she’s older. With everything she has given me, the least I could do was give her unlimited access to one of my favorite places in Charleston.

Becca Hiester, Curatorial Assistant, Gibbes Museum of Art

Professional Development Opportunities: Southeastern Museums Conference 2015

Rebecca Sailor, Gibbes Curator of Education, and Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration at the Museum, attended the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) in Jacksonville, Florida from October 12 – 14. SEMC is the major regional networking organization for museums and their staff in the southeastern states. Both Zinnia and Rebecca are active members of SEMC, and Zinnia currently serves as an appointed member of the Executive Council and the Annual Meeting Program Committee.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rebecca Sailor and Zinnia Willits at SEMC 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.

This year, Zinnia presented on four different panels at the Annual Meeting on topics including successful federal grant applications, museum insurance, and mid-career transitions. Her session entitled How We Did It: Tips and Strategies for Successful Federal Grant Applications was particularly well attended and allowed Zinnia an opportunity to share her story about the Gibbes recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a Council member, Zinnia also participated in a strategic planning workshop related to SEMC’s future growth.

Rebecca was joined by Zinnia, as well as staff from the Columbia Museum of Art and the Booth Western Art Museum for a session entitled Where Did All the Programs Go? The panel focused on the challenges of effective programming when space is limited or restricted, as in the case of a renovation. The Gibbes has made a special effort to keep programming available during our current renovation, while the Columbia Museum of Art is in the preparation stages of its own capital project. The Booth Museum staff shared the experience of providing programming around town in unique venues even before their building opened to the public.

Rebecca also presented with staff from the Cummer Museum of Art and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art on healthcare partnerships with museums. It was a great opportunity to inform participants about the Gibbes Art of Healing program with Roper St. Francis Healthcare, including our hospital lending collection and our public lectures and workshops on the subject. The Reynolda House offers continuing education workshops for healthcare and community service staff. Participants also learned about the partnership between the Cummer and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, offering programs for dementia patients and physician training; the Art Beyond Sight organization; and other special needs programs.

In addition to their presentations, Rebecca and Zinnia attended many other sessions by their peers to learn what others are doing regarding innovation and engagement. A special highlight was the keynote speech by Nick Gray, founder of Museum Hack, which was a great reminder of why museums are awesome and why what we do matters so much (watch it here).

2015 AAM Museum Expo and Conference

This week several Gibbes staff members traveled to Atlanta to attend the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Expo. The theme for this year’s event was “The Social Value of Museums; Inspiring Change.” There were over 180 program sessions over four days and each one of came away filled with new ideas and inspiration!

Rebecca Sailor, curator of education, says highlights from the conference include networking with other museum educators and learning how others continue to combine history and art to encourage school group visitation and programming. Before leaving town she was able to meet with some of the education staff at the High Museum of Art to learn more about their programming. 

Sara Arnold says that from a curatorial standpoint, it was inspiring learn-in this increasingly digital world-that original objects, artworks, and  the human stories they tell, remain an important and valued resource in our communities. However, museums today must strive to relate to their audiences by communicating these stories in compelling ways and in a variety of formats. Doug Hegley, director of media technology, Minniapolis Museum of Art, commented that “To remain viable, museums must rethink not only what types of knowledge they create, but how/with whom they create it, and finally how they communicate it.”* While digital devices will become more and more a part of our museum experience, when done properly, it will be the scholarly content and the original work of art, rather than the technology,  that is the star. Our goal with the reinstallation of the Gibbes permanent collection has been to communicate compelling and relatable stories for our visitors. We hope that our exhibitions, museum publications, labels and text panels, and any digital content we design will capture these captivating stories and inspire our visitors to engage with the museum on a regular basis. Sara says that the conference offered a refreshing opportunity to see the variety of ways in which museums are rediscovering their roles and their relevancy in the twenty first century.

Zinnia Willits at the AAM

Zinnia Willits at the AAM learning about 3D printing for the visually impaired

For the past several years Zinnia has served as the Fellowship Chair for the Registrars Committee (RC) of the American Alliance of Museums and holds a seat on the larger AAM Fellowship Task Force. As such, she is directly responsible for reviewing fellowship applications and offering travel stipends to collections care professionals to attend the Annual Meeting. Each year at AAM, she has the satisfaction of presenting the fellowship awards and meeting the recipients, many of whom would not be able to attend the Annual Meeting without a travel stipend. This year she presented nine travel fellowships to RC members and matched each recipient with a conference mentor from the RC Executive Board. While Zinnia took full advantage of all of AAM’s sessions and networking opportunities, meeting the fellowship recipients and seeing the direct value of her professional development endeavors to the larger museum community was one of the most gratifying aspects of attending AAM.

I was grateful to be awarded a marketing fellowship to attend the conference, and learned a great deal about building and engaging museum audiences. I attended a particularly informative session with the authors of “Magnetic: the Art and Science of Engagement,” and the Director of Communications from the Wallace Foundation who spoke about best practices for building arts audiences. 
Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager

My Charleston Story, as told by the In-House Graphic Designer

Few designers have the privilege of working alongside masterpieces of art, and I count myself among those lucky few!

Six months ago, I joined the Gibbes Museum of Art as the new in-house graphic designer, and I’ve been pinching myself ever since. I recall the rainy summer Charleston day when I interviewed for this position. During the interview, Executive Director Angela Mack made the poignant observation that people in the arts often follow a path that is more meandering than straight-lined. Such has been the case for me. Although I came armed with a BA in graphic design and MFA in illustration, my path has indeed been a meandering one.

Erin Bennett Banks

Erin Bennett Banks

It began over a decade ago, when I left my hometown in upstate New York to venture down south for graduate school. With formal training in graphic design, illustration and studio art, I sought out to build a creative, integrated, meaningful life.

The next ten years were spent building my freelance illustration portfolio, while cultivating a professional career at the Savannah College of Art and Design. My role as director of scholarships, admission, and regional recruitment took me all over the globe, participating in numerous gallery and museum based events around the United States, China and Korea. In fact, during my last years at SCAD, as part of an effort to align with premier galleries and art museums, we began hosting annual information sessions at the Gibbes Museum of Art. I remember thinking this would be an incredible place to work. Kismet in motion!

Fast-forward to today. Not only am I working for a premier art museum, but one that is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of Charleston and the American South. Surrounded by history, art and story. This resonates. I thrive on storytelling, whether it be using graphic design to tell the story of the Gibbes, or using my oil paints to create an illustration. My dual-career in illustration has often focused on traditional narratives and historic themes, ideas that continue to gain inspiration from my role at the Gibbes.

On my “commute” to the museum, I walk through the canopy of trees (the hidden Gateway Walk) and approach the iconic century-old building, and I am cognizant of my unique role. I get to design all of the print materials for this amazing art museum!

Graphic designers are the ultimate visual communicators. My goal is always to organize information in a way that clearly communicates the message in a beautiful way. As a designer, I have the power to pair together fonts and images into materials that connect with viewers and make a lasting impression. If I succeed, then each person that encounters a Gibbes branded piece will catch a glimpse of the Gibbes experience, a teaser that culminates in more foot traffic and deeper devotees.

<em>Photography and the American Civil War</em> banner

Photography and the American Civil War banner.

Upon my inaugural tour of the Gibbes gallery space in late August, I was given my first assignment: to create all of the museum signage for Photography and the American Civil War, the record-breaking fall exhibition organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Posters of gilt-framed Civil War soldiers. My responsibilities included: banners featuring original Matthew Brady photographs, and old-timey typefaces and sepia toned images (a haunting contrast to the current Romantic Spirits exhibition). It was a sweet introduction to the thrill of welcoming a new exhibit every few months.

And that was only the beginning. Next, I was asked to design collateral for the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring a Picasso (pinch) and Cubist art collector Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Then we moved onto the Gibbes Women’s Council Art of Design invitation honoring renowned New York interior designer Charlotte Moss. This project was followed closely by a collaboration with auxiliary group Gibbes, etc. to create the Kiawah Art & House Tour materials. Ads, posters, postcards and such, for a myriad of Gibbes events, exhibitions, educational programming, and of course, the epic Annual Report (a member magazine that includes information on exhibitions, programs, events, education, development and the financials for the past fiscal year)!

Gibbes Annual Report

The Gibbes 2013 Annual Report cover.

One of the benefits of working as an in-house designer is the opportunity to build relationships and become truly invested in the mission of the organization. And so, I’ve been warmly welcomed by the immensely talented Gibbes staff and wildly supportive auxiliary groups. This is the life force that is so necessary in the arts community, reminding Charleston about the importance of supporting the city’s only visual arts museum. Now I get to be part of this life force.

I continue to work as an illustrator, which I juggle alongside my dream job at the Gibbes. As an illustrator I’ve created three nationally published children’s books, which have earned recognition in The New York Times’ Best Children’s Books, The Washington Post, and Parents magazine, as well as the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award and Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights Outstanding Book Award. Other clients have included Highlights for Children Magazine, The Weekly Reader and Harvard Business Review. And I occasionally pause to participate in a gallery show. My work has been featured in collaborative shows with Faith Ringgold, Benny Andrews, and Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar illustrator & author) in exhibitions at the Asheville Art Museum and other galleries in the southeast. Locally, my work has been highlighted in Charleston City Paper, The Post and Courier’s Charleston Scene and the cover of Art Mag.

<em>Patchwork Path</em> Cover by Erin Banks

The Patchwork Path, cover by Erin Banks.

I also teach Drawing and Photoshop classes at Trident Technical College and have recently worked as a consultant for the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio, endeavors that keep me connected to higher education.

And although I’ll always be hopelessly devoted to my native New York, I consider myself an adopted Southerner. Married to my Southern soul mate (and co-artist Timothy Banks), we live a thoroughly creative, chaotic life together with a toddler, baby, and two Southern pugs.

I couldn’t be happier. And I couldn’t work for a more inspiring, culturally significant landmark in the heart of the most beautiful city in the world. Charleston is lucky to have a gem like the Gibbes Museum of Art. And I am so lucky to add the Gibbes to my story now.

Erin Bennett Banks, Graphic Designer, Gibbes Museum of Art