This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.
Charles Zange, Digital Imaging Technician at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., and Dan Dennehy, Head of Visual Resources at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, interviewed each other for this post and bonded over their shared enthusiasm for MCN Karaoke. Below are their answers.
Dan Dennehy (left), and Charles Zange.
Did you always want to work in museums?
Dan: I’ve always loved museums, ever since eating lunch next to Tyrannosaurus Rex on a 4th-grade field trip to the AMNH in New York. The idea of working at one didn’t occur to me until I saw a job posting for a photographer at the Walker Art Center. That changed my life completely and I never turned back.
Charles: After college, I actually started in teaching, first as a TA and then as a substitute. I liked teaching, but the classroom style didn’t feel like the right fit. So I turned to the museum field.
If you weren’t in museums what else would you be doing?
Dan: If I wasn’t working in a museum, I would probably be trying to get my work to hang in a museum. I’ve always had creative aspirations, so I appreciate the chance to play a role in supporting the arts. I worked briefly in advertising after college, but the commercial world never offered me the sense of purpose or motivation that I craved in a career.
Charles: I’d like to continue working in the non-profit sector if possible. Most likely I would try to work with information systems and data management.
What did you study at university?
Dan: I studied Fine Arts at the University of Connecticut. I started as an English major but soon realized that I could tell stories better with pictures. UCONN had a daily student-run newspaper where I worked as a photographer and editor. Between classes and the 3 AM press deadline, I was busy with a camera and darkroom for most of my waking hours.
Charles: History and French at college, Museum Studies in graduate school. I also worked as a stagehand and lighting tech at a theater.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give someone starting out in the field?
1) Develop a diverse set of skills
2) Watch, Learn and Share.
3) Only do it if you really love it
1) Broad skillset to stay flexible
2) Broad network to find opportunities
3) Technology skill, especially in database work and image software like Photoshop
What are the type of skills that have served you well?
Dan: The museum industry is more about collaboration than competition. It is important to develop skills that allow you to work well with other people. It helps to understand and assimilate the shared sense of mission that drives our organizations.
Charles: A course in digitization and digital asset management from graduate school has served me particularly well. Everything having to do with technology and photography have had a lot of impact on my work.
What skills did you learn on the job, or wish you had before starting?
Dan: Most of the real work is actually learned on the job. The skill you need before starting is to be open-minded and ready to see things from multiple perspectives.
Charles: Workplace communication has been the biggest learning curve for me: emails, memos, phone calls, meetings, etc. I wish I had more opportunities to build this skill in internships.
What do you see as the top 3 challenges in the field right now?
- Keeping pace with technology
- Being open to new ways of doing business
- Building a more diverse staff and audience
Charles: Not necessarily in this order: technology training, embracing a diverse audience, and maintaining funding for critical programs
When was the first time you attended MCN and what was your experience like?
Dan: The first time I attended MCN was as a volunteer when the conference came to Minneapolis in 2004. It was at a time when many museum photographers were transitioning from film to digital. MCN became the place for us to come together to share information as it was developing. It became an invaluable resource.
Charles: MCN 2014 in Dallas. It was great, it was my first time heading to a major conference. I liked the feel of the conference too – even at its size, MCN had a familiar feeling. It was easy to meet new people.
Can you share a favorite memory from a past MCN conference?
Dan: One of my favorite memories was doing a fully choreographed rendition of the Temptation’s “My Girl” in a dive bar in Montreal with Marla Misunas and Diana Zorich. We may have to reprise it this year in Pittsburgh.
Charles: Going to MCN karaoke the first time. I had never been to karaoke before. I (more or less) attempted Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana… I figured that would be less ‘singing’ and more ‘shouting,’ and at least I knew most of the words.