Today’s post comes from Emily Tifft, Senior Explainer
Two words. Two words have shaped the majority of my summers for the past three years: “ASK ME.” Working as an Explainer at the Corning Museum of Glass, it is my job to lead tours and answer questions about the Museum and its collection. Whether I am walking through the Museum or standing behind expository carts that read “ASK ME,” I field questions that are as diverse as the guests who ask them. Every day is different, and whether I am discussing the coloring techniques of Tiffany with glass experts or fantasizing about wearing a glass dress with a 6 year old, each day as an Explainer is an opportunity for me to grow and learn far more than I teach when guests “ask me.”
“What would you be if you could be any object in the world?” This is the question with which I was greeted on the first day I became involved with the Museum’s youth programs four years ago. I enrolled in the Museum’s Junior Curators program, a weekly program in the spring that allows students in grades 8 through 12 to curate their own exhibit for display in The Studio. When I entered the program, I was nervous and shy, expecting the mentor to do most of the instructing. That is, therefore, why I was not only shocked, but also more than a bit confused by imagining myself as an object; converting a gaggle of nine kids into a road sign, a bead, two Rubik’s Cubes, an Eiffel Tower, a rock, a horse, a pencil, and ballet shoes is certainly a non requisite for creating an exhibit in a museum. Learning to think about art in all forms, to appreciate the work an artist creates, and to explore the world around oneself, however, is essential for all good museum curators. That is what becoming involved in the Museum has given me. Entering as a student who knew next to nothing about art history or glass, I have learned to see the world in a new way. I have grown into a role that requires confidence and leadership: a Corning Museum of Glass Explainer.
The Museum’s Explainers are high school and college students, 16 and older, who lead Summer Youth Tours and stand at mobile carts throughout the Museum to do exactly what their name implies—explain. While the Junior Curators program is entirely separate from the Explainer program and is not required before becoming an Explainer, it was a natural progression for me; after making friends and developing a love of glass and art, I could not have been more excited to not only have the opportunity to spread my enthusiasm for and love of the Museum, but also to get paid to do so. I started training as an Explainer because I wanted to become more involved in the Museum. I did not realize I would gain a second family and a passion in the process.
When I drive into the Museum parking lot every morning, I do not always know what will happen. As an Explainer, I could go from talking about objects on a cart dedicated to ancient glass—complete with replicas and props—to playing “I Spy” with a group of kindergarteners, just in the course of an hour. I am proud to say, however, the people with whom I work are able to handle any challenge. They are bright, capable and interesting. That is not to say that they are boring. A true Explainer can easily transition from debating typical teenage concepts, like the latest Harry Potter movie, to discussing the Museum’s newest glass acquisition. While this characteristic is certainly admirable, the trait I love most about my coworkers is the way they support each other. Working as an Explainer is entering into a family, one that is quick to help in times of need and is always united by a single passion: the Museum itself. We work at the Museum because we love it, and we are always ready to share that love with others.
Throughout my three years working as an Explainer, I have shared the joy of Cinderella’s glass slipper with countless youth tours. I helped a blind woman accomplish her goal: to “see” the works in the Museum. I had the honor of giving a tour to a group of senior citizens, people who, I quickly learned, had been looking forward to the trip, their big outing, for months. I have made lasting friendships and have met visitors from around the world. So, whether I am coloring with kindergarteners or explaining an especially difficult question on a cart, I am proud to be an Explainer, a job that teaches so much more than facts about glass.
If you or someone you know would like to become involved with one of the Museum’s youth programs, there will be an informational event called Fire Up Your Future at the Museum’s Studio from 6:00 p.m.- 7:30 p.m. on Friday, January 6, 2012. It is an opportunity to talk to teens who are already involved at the Museum. And don’t worry: you can ask all the questions you want. The Explainers are used to giving answers.
For more information about the Museum’s teen programs, check our website at http://www.cmog.org/get-involved/teen-programs. Explainer training starts in January, so apply now!