follow one student’s career path to the world of museums

When Jeffreen Hayes graduated from Oviedo High School, she moved on to the University of Central Florida to major in chemistry. Her goal? To become a pharmacist.

It would have been a good plan, but there was one problem: Hayes wasn’t passionate about chemistry.

So she took some time off to consider her options, and turned to Valencia.

Here, she signed up for humanities classes and soon discovered her true love: humanities and art. After taking a class with the late humanities professor Philip Bishop, she asked him what kinds of jobs she might be able to get with a degree in humanities. “He said I could do a lot of things. I could be an art critic or work in a museum,” Hayes recalls.

Thanks to a number of internships – including one she landed while at Valencia – Hayes is on her way to her dream job as a museum director.  

Hayes’ journey began at Valencia, where college staffers helped her land an internship at Orlando Museum of Art. There, her primary job was to lead tours of the museum’s African and pre-Columbian art galleries, primarily for elementary school children. In addition, museum staffers asked her to research an African-American artist, Kerry James Marshall, who had an exhibition coming up at the museum. “They wanted help figuring out how to reach out to the African-American community,” Hayes said. “I was supposed to research him and his work and come up with ways to engage the community.”

Although Hayes was growing increasingly interested in art – and a potential career as a curator – her dad wasn’t happy about the idea. A retired military man, he wanted to know how she was going to find a job. But she had a plan.

After graduating from Valencia, Hayes transferred to Florida International University in Miami, to finish her undergraduate degree in humanities. There, she got a work-study job in the campus museum – and learned more hands-on museum work. “It was a really great experience,” she said. “I learned how to describe objects, I learned the database system.” She also learned about an internship program in New York City, sponsored by an organization for women in the arts.

Upon graduation from FIU in December 2000, Hayes packed her bags and headed to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the federal government’s General Services Administration in the department’s art and architecture program. Her responsibilities included asking artists and galleries to send their proposals for various building projects. 

She continued at that job for two years, before heading to Howard University in D.C. to earn her master’s degree in art history. At Howard, she landed even more internships – at the National Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress. It’s a path she encourages students to follow.

“I think the most important thing about the internships I’ve done was that they helped me find my niche,” Hayes says. “I learned, for instance, that I didn’t want to be a registrar — the person in charge of taking care of the collection,” who catalogs the works and coordinates the schedule. Instead, she discovered she liked researching the artists and their work and talking to them. “The internships allowed me to fine-tune my interests and really find my niche. My strategy was to work in as many different institutions in as many different positions as I could,” she said.  But at the end of her many internships, she knew she wanted to be a museum curator.

Hayes has already had a taste of that, having worked as an interim curator at the University of Delaware and as associate curator at the Hampton University Museum in Hampton, Va. Now working full-time on her doctoral dissertation at the College of William & Mary, she will soon head to the Birmingham Museum of Art, where she’ll be doing a post-doctoral fellowship.

 “I love what I do and I think that if you’re really passionate and if you’re willing to put forth the work, you can do it. But you have to be willing to do the work. You can love being an actress, but if you’re not willing to do the legwork, it’s not going to happen.”

She also advises students to find mentors and stay in touch with them. “I asked for help all along the way. I think that’s something a lot of younger people do not do,” she said.

Often, she said, it’s as easy as asking someone in the business if they have time for a cup of coffee to chat about how they got started. And after you’ve established that friendship, stay in touch. Hayes updates her mentors and friends in the art world about her moves, from one job to another.

“You would be surprised at the lifelong relationships you will have with these people. I am still in touch with the people I reached out to 10 years ago,” Hayes says. “Those people who’ve been instrumental in my life, I always let them know what my next step is. It shows them: Look, this is what you helped me accomplish.”

Source: Marketing and Strategic Communications, Valencia Community College; Valencia News; http://news.valenciacollege.edu

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