Olivia Blomstrom, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Finding A Place

I’m going to be honest: I chose my volunteer site for selfish reasons. Two months ago, I was an art history major eager to experience first-hand what it was like to work in a museum. CSLP was the perfect opportunity to accomplish that goal and work in the DC community. I sent some emails, made some phone calls, and soon enough I was on board at my first choice: the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Years earlier, I had visited on a family trip to the city, and it had been a favorite spot of mine ever since. I would be helping to run the front desk at the Luce Foundation Center, the museum’s open display of art in storage, and the very place where I had stood on my first visit and thought “How cool would it be to work here?” It was, to be incredibly cliché, a dream come true.

At least, that was my first thought. At CSLP orientation, I discovered everyone else was working for a great cause. They were tutoring at-risk high school students, or teaching English to immigrants, or gardening to provide fresh produce to people living in food deserts. And when it was my turn to introduce myself? “Oh, I’m Olivia and I’m… working in an art museum.” For the first time, I felt selfish. It didn’t help that the further I went into sophomore year, the less confident I was that I wanted to major in art history and have a future in museum work at all. I found myself longing to do something more impactful each time I sat at the Luce Center front desk. They had its own merits: free to the public, with arts education programs and cultural events, but I felt I had tossed aside working directly with marginalized groups in the community who needed help the most in order to pursue my own self-interest. I began bringing a load of guilt to my work at the museum that wasn’t constructive at all.

When meeting with Dr. Carter, the psychology professor overseeing my CSLP work, he suggested a final project relating to art therapy. This would be a logical way to bridge my psychology curriculum and my art-related work, but I was at a loss for something art therapy-related I could do at the museum. Lo and behold, looking through pamphlets at work later that week, I discovered that the Luce Center has a weekly sketching workshop, open to all visitors. Perfect. I signed up to volunteer at the next session, and it didn’t take long to realize this was exactly what I needed, not just for my project, but for myself. Held on weekday afternoons, the workshop consists mostly of retired seniors. As they chatted away with each other as they took out their sketchpads, I got a sense of what a sense of community there was in the group, the kind of community I had been feeling guilty for passing up. Museum work isn’t going to save the world, and that’s okay. I love working with the group each week, and I enjoy my work at Luce much more now that I’ve realized sitting around feeling guilty wasn’t doing any good. As it turned out, I just needed to stop wallowing, stop putting so much pressure on myself, and look around for the right opportunity.

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