Post by Rachel Allen. Rachel Allen was the MCN President from 1992-3 and served on the board from 1991-96. She is the Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
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.
In this interview, Rachel Allen, Deputy Director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and former MCN Board President, profiles digital strategy consultant Jessica Warchall.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Jessica Warchall, who is a digital strategy consultant. We formed an instant bond when Jessica told me she is temporarily living in North Carolina. It turns out that she is now in Durham, home of my alma mater Duke University, where her husband is pursuing a career in sports medicine. And, since it was almost March Madness when we first connected, we chatted about Duke basketball. Although her husband was working courtside, sadly, Jessica couldn’t get coveted tickets for me to watch the Blue Devils play and she only snagged them once for herself!
Jessica bills herself as a storyteller. She loves to tell stories and she has a perfect background to match that goal. She got her BS and MS degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and after working in publishing as an editor, she went back for an art history degree. She’s worked at both the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Museums, she thinks, are a perfect place for a digital strategist, broadly described, with skills that apply to web and app development, social media, publishing, and communications.
I couldn’t resist getting some insider tips on what makes a good story. First and foremost, Jessica advises that you need to know your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Is it kids or college students? Define your audience early on, target a particular group, and don’t try to be all things to all people. The media you use also impacts the kind of story you can tell. If it’s social media, you have to engage your audience immediately. With websites, blogs, and other long form media, you have more time to develop your story.
Jessica connected with MCN in 2014, her first year at the Warhol Museum, when she joined a panel on social media in museums. That panel, which looked at social media trends that were prevalent at the time, spawned several break-out groups where Jessica had time with museum colleagues from around the US. We agreed that one of the best things about MCN is the opportunity to network and meet new friends.
I asked Jessica what advice she would offer to those wanting to enter the museum field. She says she tells them about her own background and advises “to be open to opportunity.” When she started her career in journalism, Jessica wasn’t necessarily thinking of working in a museum or in digital communications, yet she’s found that museums offer rich opportunities and freedom to experiment across different platforms. “So, keep an open mind and don’t pigeonhole yourself into a narrow career field,” she cautions.
I returned one last time to the storytelling angle to ask if Jessica harbored any secret ambitions to write a novel. She laughingly said if she told then it wouldn’t be a secret. (I think that means yes!) So, I told her about two of my favorite Southern novelists from Duke University – Reynolds Price (A Long and Happy Life) and his student Anne Tyler (The Accidental Tourist). Here’s to good stories and to good storytellers!