Brittany Johnson came into the MMIAM program with a Masters degree in journalism and Bachelors in international communications. She graduated in 2016 and is now the e-Communications Coordinator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. Why was Brittany interested in pursuing the MMIAM program and how has she combined her previous experience with her graduate studies in her new career path? We recently caught up with Brittany to find out!
What was your experience in arts management prior to applying to the program?
Prior to joining the program, I’d worked at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in San Francisco, California and at Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, Texas. They were such different experiences: Mexic-Arte is a small, Mexican/Mexican-American museum and SFMOMA is, well, huge! When I was at SFMOMA, they were finalizing the logistics for closing the museum for three years to undergo a massive expansion.
Working with Mexic-Arte gave me the opportunity to try everything – I helped in the store, was on the gala planning committee, led art-making workshops at community events and festivals, etc. At SFMOMA, I was much more focused on marketing and public relations, given my background in journalism and international communications.
Why did you decide to pursue graduate studies in international arts management?
After those work experiences, I knew I wanted to work in the arts, probably in a museum, but I didn’t feel like I truly knew in what capacity. I was very concerned about the ability to make my previous experience and my prior training fit within this field. I liked that MMIAM gave us access to a wide range of careers in the arts.
What are your primary responsibilities at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art?
My primary role is as e-Communications Coordinator. I handle our email marketing. I work closely with data to gain insight into what might turn a casual visitor into a museum enthusiast and to help ensure that each of our various audiences receive the information necessary to bring them to the museum. Our visitors range from families looking for children’s activities to young couples looking for a date night, artists hoping to take a workshop, or even a solitary guest hoping to wander our galleries and trails as a way to disconnect and recharge.
I’m also currently serving as co-chair for the IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) Committee. Together with my co-chair partner, we work to increase diversity and accessibility (in all its many forms) among staff and influence workplace attitudes and policy. We create learning opportunities for staff and serve as a sounding board for questions and issues that staff may have for IDEA-related topics. We both also oversee seven employee resource groups and I run an eighth. We have a group for staff members who identify as or are allies for LGBTQ, women, Indigenous, Latino, African-American, 55+, and veterans communities, and we’re forming one related to equity. This particular group is still taking shape.
I should mention that I was recently promoted and will be starting a new position as Interpretation Specialist in November, which will involve me fulfilling the museum’s mission to interpret the collection, exhibitions, the natural world, and architecture, providing access to art to all.
Which courses were the most valuable to you for your career and why?
Since I am working for a non-profit in the US, the Southern Methodist University courses were extremely helpful – cultural policy in particular, but also the ones related to accounting and financial management. As my job is in marketing, I glean concepts and takeaways from our marketing courses at HEC on a daily basis.
What did you gain personally and professionally from living and studying in four different countries with students from around the world?
I came into the program as a “sponge.” I knew I had a lot to learn and was eager to do so.
Personally, the connections that I formed are invaluable. My cohort and I shared so much and relied on one another to such a degree that all nine of my colleagues will forever be in my heart, as cheesy as that may sound.
Professionally, these experiences helped me to gain a new perspective on my career, what it was at that point and what it could (and still can) be, and what I want out of it.
The international cohort made it at times more challenging, as we were all quite different and we responded to stress/deadlines/group projects, etc. differently and yet we still had to make it work. This was a great lesson for the real world where great teams require different skill sets and approaches in order to get great results and where you can’t allow miscommunication to set you back.
Which campus abroad was the most memorable for you and why?
Let me start by saying that they were all memorable in different ways.
Being a native Texan, our semester in Dallas gave me the opportunity to view, experience, question, and evaluate my home state through the eyes of others. I would guess that this is an experience the average person doesn’t get.
Milan was the most challenging. It was at the end of the program and I think we were all quite tired. It was the point where we all had to say goodbye to one another. It was the place where I had to hunker down and write my thesis. It was also challenging to satisfy all the requirements to establish myself as a student.
Montreal was where I grew the most personally. It was where I truly felt I was living abroad since Dallas felt like home and Milan and Bogota were quite quick.
I felt the most inspired by Bogota. There was an energy there that I didn’t see replicated elsewhere.
What are the current trends in the cultural sector in the United States and what new opportunities are emerging for arts managers as a result?
I’m not sure that I can speak for the entire country. However, I think issues related to access and inclusion are becoming more prevalent.
ArtBridges for example, is an initiative that I find really powerful and intriguing. Essentially, this organization tries to make American art accessible to those who have limited access to some of our biggest and most famous institutions and collections. Despite being from the fourth largest city in the country (Houston) and growing up with the ability to see great art frequently, I love the idea that people are interested in sharing with others. Great art doesn’t just belong in New York or Los Angeles or Houston, but should be viewed by Americans everywhere.