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.
Angelica Aboulhosn, public affairs specialist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, speaks with Essie Lash, Marketing Manager, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, about a broad range of issues from the way that technology plays itself out in marketing and communication to what’s on the Spotify playlist right now.
Angelica Aboulhosn and Essie Lash
What’s your current position, and how do you describe it to family and friends on the weekends?
Angelica Aboulhosn: I’m a public affairs specialist at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. In short, I get to tell folks about the fantastic things our center is doing in the world, among them, producing the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and a number of exceptional cultural sustainability projects across the globe. If I’m lucky, that also means access to some delectable international cuisine.
Essie Lash: I’m a Marketing Manager at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where I help to share and promote the museum’s programs and exhibitions. On one day, I might be focused on a campaign for an upcoming artist talk, and on the next, on our summer hours—every day here is different. I work closely with the Global Communications, Education, and Visitor Experience teams at the museum.
On Social Media & Technology
What are some spots/websites you look to for inspiration? For rejuvenation?
AA: The Smithsonian Learning Lab has always been a favorite of mine, both as a user and as an observer. One of my favorite things to do is assemble my own collections and see what others are gathering. I’m also a big fan of The Artist Project from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The web series brings together contemporary artists to reflect on traditional works and the result is something altogether extraordinary.
Which social network can you be found on most often?
What are the apps you can’t live without?
EL: Pocket—my mind is like a sieve sometimes, so that app has been a lifesaver. I feel like 50% of my day is just spent bookmarking things to come back to. Pocket lets you do that easily and tag things obsessively. I also find the Moon app, which tells you the phase of the moon and days until the next new moon, pretty great. (Shoutout to the Still Processing podcast for that one.)
On Work and Career
What career moves and aspirations brought you to your current role?
EL: I worked for a cultural partnership for four years in Brooklyn after being in a corporate communications role. That was really when I decided that working in a museum would be a dream job. I was able to collaborate closely with the cultural institutions in central Brooklyn, and observe how they built audiences, communicated their missions, and served their communities. That was when it first clicked for me that being an effective storyteller and marketer has a role to serve outside of the corporate world.
What do you think makes working at a Smithsonian different from other museums?
AA: The Smithsonian is more than a single museum. In fact, it’s 19 museums, nine research centers, and a zoo. The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, where I work, is one of the research centers and each and every day I meet someone new or learn something new about someone I’ve already met. Smithsonian staff are unlike others I have encountered in that they are endlessly curious about the world around them and want to explore it. Every day.
I think you and I first crossed paths when you were looking for participants in a Twitter chat. What role does museum collaboration have in your strategy and your work?
AA: Collaboration is fundamental to our work. We are always looking for ways to share our scholarship and our expertise with partner research centers and cultural institutions. In fact, this October we are co-producing “IlluminAsia: A Festival of Asian Art, Food, and Cultures,” to celebrate the reopening of the Freer|Sackler galleries.
What is your favorite aspect of your job? What do you get excited about when you wake up in the morning?
EL: My absolute favorite thing, which helps keep me inspired to work on everything I do from planning to tracking, is being in the Frank Lloyd Wright building itself (especially before the museum is open or after it’s closed to the public). This hasn’t really changed since Day 1 at the Guggenheim. My offices are actually not at the museum itself—we’re downtown in the Financial District—but I try to get uptown to work about once a week. Being in the physical galleries, either on my own or when I can watch people engaging with the exhibitions that we’re promoting, is still a total thrill.
AA: At the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, we privilege community voices. The musicians who perform on our stages, the artists who color our walls, and the master craftspeople with whom we partner are all part of a rich and expansive community. It’s something we bring to our programming, too. You’re never alone at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, for instance. Whether at a discussion stage or a live music performance, you are experiencing culture as part of a larger community, you are seeing children light up at the sight of a performer or people who have come to the Festival every year delight in the reunion with old friends—that sense of community is something magical.
You and I are both in PR/marketing and communications. I think our relationship to technology isn’t always as obvious as it may be for some others in the field—but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
AA: It’s a topic I was just discussing with a colleague. Whatever your title in a museum or cultural institution, digital is part and parcel of your work. From the curators researching the new and nuanced exhibitions that we enjoy to the web developers translating those experiences online, each and every one of us is thinking about bringing cultural scholarship to people who might not have the luxury of visiting our museums. Technology offers an elegant platform on which to do that.
The subject I can’t stop talking about lately is…
EL: For lack of a better term I’m going to steal the phrase “Old Art Lady Style” from Sophie Buhai , which I recently read in Racked. When the Georgia O’Keeffe show was up at Brooklyn Museum, I was so taken by her fashion, and how her personal style integrated with her work and her art-making process. My own style is very haphazard, so I’m in awe of anyone who can pull off a uniform look and make it their own. Anything at the intersection of fashion and art is probably up my alley.
What’s been your favorite Guggenheim exhibition since you started at the museum? Why?
EL: I think Moholy-Nagy: Future Present has been my favorite show in the Guggenheim rotunda since I started working here, having visited the museum to see everything from Picasso Black and White to Tino Sehgal’s This Progress here over the years. I didn’t know much about László Moholy-Nagy before we started working on the exhibition, but I’m pretty enthusiastic about all things Bauhaus, and I thought it made the ramps really come alive. It also included a reconstruction of Moholy-Nagy’s “Room of the Present,” which was conceived of but never built during the artist’s lifetime. The entire exhibition displayed an optimism about technology’s capacity to improve society that I responded to (and that fits in pretty well with the mission of MCN!) The show was later on view at LACMA and the Art Institute of Chicago, which I love; sometimes I wish I could just be a traveling show groupie and hit them all.
Tell us about your favorite digital/web/social project at or beyond the Guggenheim.
EL: We have a series on social media called #FrankLloydWrightFridays where we share photos of the building alongside quotes on Friday afternoons—it’s a perfect sendoff into the weekend and consistently sees high engagement. Over the past year or so, our Digital Marketing team has featured visitor photos and quotes about their visit, which is part of our larger strategy to spotlight visitor experience in our marketing and planning. I’m also totally obsessed with SFMoMA’s #SendMeSFMoMA project, which is a pretty perfect combo: the messaging bot showcases their collection and just sparks joy and surprise in users. I think the most effective digital projects are totally addictive and fun, and I’ve gone down a pretty long rabbit hole with that one.
Have you been following other #MCN50 stories? What have you found surprising or inspiring about the community voices that are surfacing?
AA: From the #MCN50 stories I have read, museum technologists across the globe are facing similar challenges but are addressing them with an invigorating rigor. Each and every conversation brings with it sage advice and a handful of useful recommendations for museum practitioners young and old.
Where do you go to stay inspired?
EL: Love this question. Living in a city offers constant inspiration, but I definitely need to take some breaks and trips to rejuvenate. I’ve made day trips up to Beacon to just run through the Dia galleries and grab a homemade ice cream right by the train station. Within the city limits, I find Coney Island pretty inspiring and just remote enough. (I gravitate towards long train trips to points of self-reflection, apparently.)
What’s in heavy rotation on your Spotify?
EL: I’m pretty impressed by the Spotify algorithm and what they’ve done with personalization in general—my Summer Rewind list is a lot of Dire Straits, Paul Simon, and Amadou & Mariam. (My tastes haven’t changed much in about three decades, but new things get into the rotation occasionally.)
AA: I’ve always been a Gypsy Kings fan, but I’ve recently gotten into some of Argentinian singer Suni Paz’s rich and stirring music.
Describe your personal aesthetic in three words.
EL: Colorful; Active; Geometric—or: “Changes by day.”
AA: Clean, spritely, and Seinfeldian.
What’s on your reading list?
EL: New York recently launched an initiative called “One Book, One New York,” which I’m very on board with. All of the nominees were either personal favorites, or have been on my list for a while. The ultimate selection, which I’ve just started, is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi. I’m also in a book club with a bunch of museum gals, which I highly recommend as a way of establishing some structure in this crazy world.
What’s your top local food spot?
AA: In DC, Sushi Taro on 17th Street.
EL: In NYC, probably Dimes.