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RISING STARS CONNECT THROUGH CLEVELAND EMERGING MUSEUM PROFESSIONALS NETWORKING GROUP

BY INGRID SCHAEFER SPRAGUE PHOTO BY DOUG KHRENOVSKY

As graduate students at Cleveland State University, Michelle Epps and Matthew Seaman had found their career passions in museum studies. With 80 museums in Northeast Ohio, Epps says, and 17,500 to 35,000 museums in the United States — “more than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined” — landing a job in the field didn’t seem to be a problem.

But upon seeking an internship, the reality of the job market soon set in. “Upon graduation and in grad school, you jump around and take anything you can find,” Seaman, who interned in the artists archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society, says. From there, Seaman’s first job was as collections assistant and artifact handling at the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame. “From there—long story short—I went from a temporary position until this past year when I started my current job as collections and exhibitions coordinator.”

Similarly, Epps’ first position was at a smaller museum—the International Women’s Air & Space Museum inside Burke Lakefront Airport, where she worked in education. Today Epps is community engagement manager
at SPACES, a nonprofit arts organization that commissions works from primarily local artists that is experimental in nature.

So, via first-hand experience, although Epps and Seaman learned that there are numerous museums, the majority is smaller and most people in the field stay in their position until retirement. The two, who had banded together to create museum studies club while at CSU, decided to join forces again in October 2012 to create Cleveland Emerging Museum Professionals to assist new graduates and those with few years in the museum field. The first mixer in December 2012 was successful in bringing together over a dozen emerging museum professionals. Since then Cleveland EMP continues to grow and engage emerging museum professionals in the Northeast Ohio area and beyond.

With regard to Cleveland EMP, Epps primarily communicates with the members and handles the social media feed. Seaman focuses on presenter relations and as emcee at most of the events. “I’m big on brand identity—making sure that everything produced has same look and aesthetic,” Seaman says. “First impressions are everything.”
Seaman says he and Epps work well together. They collaborate on putting together events, communicate with membership, and manage the contact information, Epps says. Recently, Matthew Sisson, manager of institutional giving at Western Reserve Historical Society, joined Epps and Seaman in January to provide assistance to the organization. “He has been a member since the beginning,” Seaman adds.

EMP Cleveland is a subgroup within the AAM (American Alliance of Museums) that looks to enhance professional development and provide additional resources to guide career paths. Cleveland EMP members communicate via Facebook and Twitter. Eblasts are circulated to members, and bimonthly “coffee and conversation” get-togethers help peers connect. Open meetings are held every other month at SPACES to plan future events. Epps says the group maintains its grassroots focus with member input.

The typical Cleveland EMP member is either a graduate school student or a job seeker, looking for their big break in the field. “Some members have one to five years of experience,” Epps says. “A few are at the 10-year mark in the field, but they’re in the minority.”

Cleveland EMP provides professional development for specific skills on what museum might expect in a cover letter and resume. The group provides behind-the-scenes tours of museums, Q & As, and other peer-to-peer events that help to promote networking and build understanding of topics, such as volunteer roles and writing grants. Events have been held at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cleveland EMP also promotes the Ohio Museums Association conference, so people can meet from across the state. “We try to do a lot of diverse events throughout the year,” Epps says.

The Cleveland EMP meeting on April 15 will provide the opportunity for museum employees to get a professional headshot photograph and intensive conversation with career coach Karen Gurney on how to handle your online image and persona.

Seaman is proud to say that Cleveland EMP is the first AAM chapter in the state of Ohio. “In the last three years, we have helped to establish groups in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Youngstown/Warren,” he says. “We are the only state with multiple EMP groups at this point. We’re also looking to establish an EMP in Toledo. At the AAM conference, EMP groups kibitz and meet each other’s company.” AAP local chapters exist in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Las Vegas.

The distinguishing feature of Cleveland EMP among other networking groups, particularly other young professional groups, is that the group tries to connect on a personal level. “Every EMP young professionals group does that,” Seaman says. “Our members are repeat members, and we have a good core group through relationship building and through friends.”

Cleveland EMP plans on building better relationships with colleges, Seaman, who says he is looking into speaking with college classes to see what their needs are at that level, says. Epps is focusing on bringing on higher impact programming instead of more frequent meetings, based on members’ input. Additionally, she would like to see the development of a Cleveland EMP board.

Epps and Seaman are grounded in their belief for starting Cleveland EMP. “Sometimes it is difficult to break into the field,” Seaman says. “You get in the field by helping pave the way or providing an idea of what to look for as far as jobs, that is, professional development. We rely on each other with all being EMPs.”

For more information: clevelandemp.wordpress.com

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