What is your job at the Getty?
I work as a gallery teacher at the Getty Villa. Gallery teachers lead tours in the museum and get to talk with visitors about art all day long.
In the Museum we are surrounded by so much incredible art—and we get to share our enthusiasm about it with the public, so it’s a wonderful job!
What kinds of tours do you lead?
There are certain daily set tours that the museum offers, such as Collection Highlights tours, where we look at major pieces from the collection. But gallery teachers are also given quite a bit of freedom with other programs such as our Focus Tours, which are thematic tours that we design ourselves. The gallery teachers all have different backgrounds and interests, so we end up with quite a variety of tours.
We also teach all the lessons for school groups, professional development programs, and adult courses that we periodically offer.
How do you keep the tours interesting, since you present them so often?
We can change the objects we talk about during our tours—every day! In a week I might give five Collection Highlights tours, for example, and each one can focus on different objects.
We can also explore different subthemes within the collection. On any given tour we might explore the same four or five objects in the collection, but we focus on different aspects of the work, such as its style, subject, conservation, or its use in antiquity.
Also, our tours are discussion-based rather than lecture-based. I can give the exact same tour five times a week and have a totally different experience each time because of how the visitors engage with what I’m presenting. Every group is unique, so you never know what you’re going to get when you head out there and meet your group of visitors. It’s very exciting! (Laughs.)
How are tours at the Getty different from tours at other institutions?
I think one difference is that we have professional museum educators leading the tours. We’re very lucky to be able to hire people who are knowledgeable not only in art and art history, but also in education. It allows us to constantly reflect on and improve our practice.
What are some techniques you use to engage visitors?
Well firstly it is important to create a welcoming space for visitors so they feel comfortable engaging with you about the objects on the tour.
I also like to ask my visitors questions that guide them through the works of art and lead them to important observations. It’s key to allow visitors the time to really absorb a work of art before we begin to break it apart by asking questions or interpreting it. The experience is always much more fulfilling for both parties when it’s the visitors who come up with all the great ideas about a piece.
How do you approach tours for school groups?
Before we can plan a school group lesson, we need to be aware of what the students are learning in the classroom, and the relevant state content standards for their grade level. Gallery teachers make contact with classroom teachers to see how much the students know about the museum and the ancient world before their visit.
When working with school groups, you have to be able to think outside the box. A first-grade class learning about, say, the theme of friendship, might come to the Museum hoping to make connections with the art, so you have to prepare a lesson using the ancient collection that will speak to them.
What is your educational background?
I graduated from UCLA in 2008 with a B.A in art history. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on early Rome.
The gallery teachers at the Villa all come from different backgrounds. Some of us come from an art historical perspective, some from an archaeological angle, and others from an artist’s point of view. It adds to the multi-dimensionality of our tours here.
You did a Multicultural Undergraduate Internship with the Getty a few years ago. What was that like?
I did my MUI internship in summer 2007. But actually I started as a volunteer the year before that. I just knew I had to be here!
My internship was phenomenal. My supervisors knew what my interests were, and they asked me what I wanted to do. I worked on a database that catalogued all the plants in the Villa gardens and how they were used in antiquity. I then created an educational pamphlet about how to look at works in the galleries that featured these plants.
In my senior year at UCLA I had an extension of the internship, working for the Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Getty Center. And then I applied for the gallery teacher position.
If you weren’t a gallery teacher, what do you think you’d be doing now?
Believe it or not, I’m very interested in astronomy and marine biology. If I were doing college over again, without the art history option, I’d probably end up in one of those fields!