Research and Educational Engagement
Barrick Museum of Art
Years at UNLV: Since 2012 as a volunteer; 2013 as a part-time employee
Family: Husband, Martin Hackett, a security trainer with Caesars Entertainment
What brought you to UNLV?
I was born and raised in Melbourne in Australia. My husband is an American. After years of us living there, I only thought it fair to come and spend time here. I live nearish the campus, so it was a logical place to look for the things I was interested in — museums and libraries. It seemed the right place to connect me with art in Las Vegas.
Your job in a nutshell?
We are so small as a body of workers here at the museum — two full-time employees and four part-time ones. So we all end up doing some of everything. I do a lot of the writing. I also do, if not the bulk, at least a large portion of the tours.
As a docent, a lot of what I do is invite people to see and talk about what they see. They might not initially feel they understand it but I hope by just posing the question “What do you see?” they can begin to describe things.
You never know what responses you’ll get. For example, I was touring some middle school girls from a STEM school, and I asked if anyone knew what a hippocampus is. One child spoke up and said “sea creature.” And, of course, she was quite right. That then led into a conversation about why that part of the brain is named for the shape of a seahorse and how we can see that shape in the art.
The College of Fine Arts’ third annual Art Walk is Oct. 11. What excites you about the event?
I’m always excited about the dance and the music and how there’s this very different context for them by placing all these activities around campus. Say you come back the next week to view a particular painting — you won’t be doing it in the context of this music flowing from across the way.
It’s like what is happening is this communally witnessed an act of creation — ah, that all sounds a bit grandiose! I guess I’m just saying that what I love is the fact you have things at Art Walk that you can never see again in the same way. And you’ll get a taste of everything the college offers.
[See Art Walk webpage for full lineup of activities.]
What advice do you have for someone just starting on campus?
Try different things. Put yourself in unexpected places. I’m always glad when we get a volunteer who is not from an arts background. The fact that you’re curious in things that are not art-based could be just the thing we need. And now that you’ve arrived, only then do we discover we can really make use of what you have.
A few years ago we had a volunteer student, Christian Rios-Castell, who was studying political science and then switched to accounting. He basically built our database — an unexpected thing, something none of the rest of us had any idea how to do.
Our current artist, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, is a perfect example. She was a ballerina. She got hurt so she studied neuroscience because the body and movement was something she was interested in. While she was a neuroscientist, she realized there was a lack of communication between scientists and the nonscience-based public, so she went back to school and remade herself as a communicator in graphic communication. Everything that’s come from what she’s been is fed into this current show. You can literally see all those connections.
What UNLV head-scratcher would you like to know the answer to?
I would like to meet the person who commissioned those sheet flange objects on the Barrick’s gallery ceiling. As soon as I lead tours in, people look up and remark on them. They are so distinctive, people often think they are part of our exhibitions.
We have a lot of guesses of why they put them there – my own is that they’re probably acoustic baffles to cut down on the way noises bounce around a gymnasium that is no longer a gymnasium. But then why are they made of metal? Was it so they’d be long-lasting? Why are they not padded?
What task do you hate doing?
I don’t enjoy grant writing but I don’t know that I hate it. It’s not so much the writing itself. It’s more that feeling of pitching something into the void and suspecting that the void won’t like it. You don’t know who’s inside that void and what they really want behind the questions they ask. And you never will.
What can people on campus do to make your job easier?
Not touch the artwork, that’s a big one. And pay attention to the sign that asks them to not take food or drink or backpacks or skateboards into the museum itself.
I really don’t enjoy interrupting people and saying, “Excuse me, can we watch after that sandwich in your hand while you walk through?” I just legitimately don’t want stuff to get damaged.