Nicole Cromartie (Art History '07) recently started as the Director of Education and Programs at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado. Cromartie is inspired by time spent with artists' work as well as museums' audiences. She appreciates the College of the Arts and School of Art + Art History for providing her the educational background she needed to pursue her career, and she encourages students interested in a career in museums to take advantage of internships and other opportunities to find their place in a museum.
What was it about the Clyfford Still Museum that made you want to work there?
Many things! I am drawn to artist-centered museums. Clyfford Still, an incredible American painter, bequeathed his estate to an American city (later identified as Denver, Colorado) on the condition that they build a museum to display and study his work. His vision for the museum is carried out by the staff, which is something that I wanted to be a part of. Going to visit the Clyfford Still for my interview sealed the deal. The museum is an incredible space for visitors, and my first visit coincided with a tour group of young new Americans, who were energetically engaging with the work.
Is there something specific you hope to accomplish in your new position?
In every role that I have had my goal is to help make collections meaningful and accessible for audiences. I want people from all different backgrounds and levels of experience with art to feel that the museum is a place for them.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
All of my programs, interpretation and other educational projects are born from time spent with an artist's work and the inspiration I draw from audiences. I love spending time in galleries getting to know visitors and what they are seeking from their experience in the museum. I am also interested in talking with people who don't go to museums. What are their barriers?
What might people not know about your work or the museum field?
Museum educators rely on a vast range of skills, training and experience to do their jobs. Understanding museum best practices, being an effective and engaging facilitator, and knowing the content of your museum are all critically important, but that's just part of the job. My colleagues and I often talk about the variety of skills acquired on the job. In previous positions, I've learned everything from how to best organize an efficient art supply closet, overseeing large scale events for up to 6,000 visitors, and even how to get a permit to shut down a full city block for horse-drawn carriage rides.
What advice would you give to a student seeking a career in museums?
Take advantage of internships and other opportunities to work with art and audiences. While in undergrad at UF, I was grateful for internships at the Harn Museum of Art, the Matheson History Museum, and in the city's public art program. I also oversaw Gainesville's downtown Art Walk. Each of these experiences helped me hone in on what kind of museum work I wanted to do. Starting out at UF, I knew that I wanted to work in museums, but didn't yet know about museum education.
How do you feel your experience in the College of the Arts prepared you for your career?
Having a good foundation in different areas of art history has been critical for my work in art museums. I will always be grateful to Dr. Glenn Willumson, former director of the museum studies program, for taking me under his wing. He allowed me to participate in one of his museum studies graduate seminars. It was in that course that I was introduced to exhibition and education concepts that I still refer to and use today. Dr. Willumson also encouraged me to go for an internship at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. It was there that I fell for artist-centric museums and discovered my love for giving tours.