Q&A with a Project Manager on Making Exhibitions
Janet Hong is a Project Manager in our Exhibitions department at the Field. Some of the topics she’s worked on include tattooing, fashion design, Haitian Vodou, and bioluminescent animals.
What does it mean to be an exhibition project manager at the Field Museum?
I manage teams to create new exhibitions. Our exhibition teams include scientists, writers, designers, filmmakers, digital interactive producers, sculptors, and many other specialized artists.
That's a crazy village, but it definitely takes the whole village to raise an exhibition.
What’s one of the most memorable moments you’ve experienced in your job?
At last April’s March for Science Chicago, four women (who I’d never met before) and I spontaneously broke into a chant to welcome 40,000 marchers to Museum Campus. An enormous river of people had taken over the streets to support science and ended up on the steps of the Field. It was a chant of jubilation—and also telling everyone where the bathrooms were.
I usually work on exhibition projects, but last year, I helped connect our museum to the March for Science, where I served on the organizing committee. The Field took a leadership role in the march, and I’ve never been so proud to work for the museum as on that cold sunny day in April.
What's your personal favorite exhibition that the Field has hosted?
Eh?! Totally couldn’t answer that! There have been so many superb exhibitions in my time here.
I do wish I could see exhibitions before my time, though, throughout our past 125 years. One example: the original 1933 Races of Mankind hall created by sculptor Malvina Hoffman. Sure wish I could hear what visitors said amongst themselves at the time. I recently worked on an exhibition reinterpreting Hoffman’s bronze sculptures. The show’s curator and writers really made me think about the invention of ideas of “race” and why we still have to deal with these ideas today.
Also, there was a 1966 exhibition of paintings by chimpanzees! I think the point was that chimps and Homo sapiens are cousins, and there's overlap in cognitive abilities (or something like that). Or were they making fun of the abstract expressionists of the day…?
The Mummies exhibition is now open. What has it been like working on that project?
It’s funny how blasé we’ve gotten about having a CT scanner here at the museum back in 2011-12. But it was freaking awesome. When the conservator started the scanning project, we had no idea his findings would be so surprising, and that we should make a whole exhibition based on them.
What interests you the most about Mummies?
Two of my favorite objects in the exhibition are jars for corn beer that were found in a Chancay (Peruvian) burial site. The jars are in the shape of people, offering wee little cups of beer, and they have sculpted faces that are just so expressive and inscrutable at the same time. I’m just crazy about these jars.
This exhibition has made me wonder what my own family and friends would do to remember me after I died. A dedicated Facebook page, maybe…? I don’t want any elaborate tomb, but I’ve made my family promise to at least have a drink in my name.