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Museum Coordinator Interview

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Will Hawkins is the Museum Coordinator at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art, home of The Westervelt Collection. Mr. Hawkins graduated from Huntington College in Montgomery, AL with a degree in History. After college, he began working in the restaurant industry and continued for 15 years. While working in Tuscaloosa, he began volunteering with the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art, and shortly after, he was hired as a member of the staff and worked his way up to becoming the Museum Coordinator.

The Tuscaloosa Museum of Art houses The Westervelt Collection comprised of approximately 1000 works of fine and decorative arts. The collection was amassed by Jack Warner as investments for Gulf States Paper, now the Westervelt Company. Operating under a nonprofit foundation, the museum was asked by the Westervelt Company to share its collection with the community. Being a collection that was pieced together simply by the tastes of one man, the Westervelt Collection is remarkably cohesive. Hawkins stated that's he is always amazed at the story told through the pieces of art. There are four paid staff members at the museum. Mr. Hawkins and Kathy Thurman are the only two professional staff members. The museum employs two part-time college students.

Mr. Hawkins’s duties as Museum Coordinator include a very wide range of daily tasks. From handling the art to training docents and from scheduling tours to giving them himself, Hawkins’s day is packed with many different tasks. The museum has gone through quite a few changes since Hawkins has been on board, including two making two major moves. Hawkins has greatly enjoyed being with the museum through so much transition and feels that he has learned a great deal about the growth of an organization in his five years of working for the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art.

When asked what parts of his job he would have liked to have been trained more for, Hawkins said, "Everything. Everything except research." Hawkins's degree in history prepared him for the research necessary to make sure that information in the museum is accurate. However, not having a background in museum studies, Hawkins said that training for almost all of his other duties as Museum Coordinator came from on-the-job experiences at the museum and professional development conferences.

Hawkins recalled his first day as a volunteer at the museum. Jack Warner asked him to relocate two large paintings, and he did so as if they were “just any old pieces of art in [his] living room.” Hawkins said that much has changed in his dealings with the pieces themselves. Every bit of his knowledge about handling art has come from his experience at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art.

Mr. Hawkins and Ms. Thurman attend two major professional development conferences each year, one put on by the Southeastern Museums Conference and another by the Alabama Museums Association. Hawkins has previously attended the American Alliance conference but thought that there was much more for administrators of smaller museums to learn at smaller conferences.

The board governing the foundation and the museum is a very interested and supportive board. Hawkins attends four board meetings each year to update members of the board, and members of the board are very passionate about the content, success, and growth of the museum. Hawkins is often approached by board members with creative ideas for the museum. “Thankfully,” Hawkins said, “the board members handle most of the fundraising for the museum.” The museum receives its funding from the foundation that governs it, so the board of the foundation handles most of the development. Naturally, Hawkins and Thurman are responsible for ensuring that potential donors are presented with the best possible experience at the museum, but they do not handle much beyond that in respect to fundraising.

The museum is currently going working on two major projects. First, the museum is beginning its second year in the process of becoming an accredited museum. Hawkins said that both the self-study and natural disaster planning portions have been completed. When asked why the museum was attempting to become an accredited museum, Hawkins said that he greatly valued the experience for its ability to change a museum for the better. Also, members of the museum’s staff are working on rewriting the synopses for each artist that is represented by the museum's collection.

Hawkins said that the greatest obstacle he works to overcome every day is the public perception of the museum. Many members of the community are under the impression that the museum no longer exists. Hawkins said that experience in marketing is something that he lacks but needs. Despite this great obstacle, the rewards of working for the museum are great. Hawkins's daily interactions with school children are his favorite part of working at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art. He loves hearing children’s perspectives on the pieces in the collection and greatly enjoys being a part of some children’s first experience with fine art.

Hawkins had two major pieces of advice for stunts who hope to enter the museum field. First, he said to make sure you stick to working with things you love. Hawkins's passion for the story of American history that the collection tells has fostered his love for the art itself. Outside of the content of the museum, Hawkins suggests that students keep an open mind as far as the location and size of the museum.

Will Hawkins, Museum Coordinator at the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art, absolutely loves his job and says that he would not trade it for any other job in the world. His passion for the Westervelt Collection helps him keep the museum running smoothly every day. Though his responsibilities are vast and his training was little, Hawkins is an excellent Museum Coordinator and a great example of what a museum administrator must be.

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