Proposing a Public Program to a Museum
If you are interested in proposing a public project to a museum, I strongly encourage it, because it is a great way to get involved with a museum. You would be engaging the museum’s educational department, which is separate from the curatorial department as I said previously. Both are still under one roof and communicate with each other, so a gig in the educational department increases your visibility in general with the museum. It is also usually a paid gig. Here is how it could work.
First choose the museum you are interested in, preferably one fairly close to you, and look at their website to see how they describe their public programming. It is most likely a range of activities from museum tours to lectures, panel discussions, workshops for children and/or adults, and other educational possibilities. Those are in the range of what you can propose to the museum. That means that if you want to do a workshop or a lecture, look carefully at how the museum describes their current and previous workshops or lectures, because you want to propose one with similar language to what they are using on their website.
When deciding what to propose a lecture or workshop about, first look into the museum’s future. See what exhibits the museum has going on in year from now, or at least six to eight months from now. Let’s say there are several exhibits, but one draws your attention—an exhibit of Surrealist drawings from the museum’s permanent collection. Let’s just say that peaks your interest. Now if you design a lecture, workshop, or another similar program, it could be designed to be offered during that exhibit of Surrealist drawings to support that show. Perhaps you became interested in that show because your photographs or paintings have often referenced Surrealist work. There should be some reason that you are interested in a particular show in the future of the museum. The next step is to describe your workshop, lecture, or seminar in the same way that the museum describes the same on their website.
In the example I am giving, perhaps you propose a workshop to students or adults using photography and dreams to help the participants make and understand Surrealist images. You could also propose a lecture as well, but personally, I like workshops because they are hands-on and you can choose whatever age-group you prefer.
Contacting the Museum
Now call up the museum and ask who is in charge of public programming in their educational department. You might be able to find that person’s name on the website as well. Once you have the person’s name, either email them or call and ask for their email address from the museum. In your letter explain that you would like to discuss a public program proposal that would coincide with a museum exhibit (state the date and name of that) in the future. Explain that you would like to meet with the person you are writing to about this. I would suggest a meeting in the museum café or something very close to the museum.
There are two advantages to doing this type of proposal. One is that it can turn into something enjoyable, and, as in the example, let’s say you did a workshop on creating Surrealist imagery, that might have something to do with your art, and it might stimulate your own process—and you will also get paid. The second advantage to doing this type of proposal is that if the museum accepts it and pays you, then you now have a relationship with the museum. You can propose more workshops in the future, and you will also have a chance to meet more museum staff including curators and will learn the details of how this museum operates and what the possibilities are for exhibiting there in the future.
Curatorial Department / Asking for a show
Regarding museums and other nonprofits, I have just written about getting your work potentially acquired by a museum, challenging nonprofits to be accountable, and proposing a workshop or lecture for a public education program at a museum, but we haven’t talked about proposing a show at a museum. Now I will tell you the method I would suggest for getting a show and the story of my own proposal and how it worked.