Rebecca Grossman: A student guide at Mount Holyoke’s Art Museum

Photo by Laura Weston  Oil painting of Marie Elisabeth Desiree de Chantemerle by Nicolas de Largillière used to advertise Grossman's tour in Nov.

Photo by Laura Weston

Oil painting of Marie Elisabeth Desiree de Chantemerle by Nicolas de Largillière used to advertise Grossman's tour in Nov.


Rebecca Grossman ’18 participates in the Student Guide program offered by the Mount Holyoke Art Museum. The program gives students a hands-on experience working in a museum. While in the program, students meet with museum staff for two and a half hours each week throughout the academic year and are required to give at least two tours a semester.


Q: How did you get involved as a student guide?

A: I started doing it when I was a freshman. The first day of orientation they had this museum mania, which was a scavenger hunt. I went with a friend and we went through the museum scavenger hunt, and then afterwards we went to the little ceremony where they were talking about ways to get involved so I talked to Kendra [Weisbin], who is the organizer of the student guide program, saying I was interested in doing something with the museum. They did a pilot program freshman year, which I was involved in, and I ended up really liking it. Basically, I was a freshman with a lot of upper classmen and we would just go every week and talk about pieces of art in the museum. 


Q: What do you do as a student guide?

A: For each week of the semester you’re focusing on one individual object and sometimes you’ll go on a field trip for one week or you’ll do a group looking activity instead of doing object but generally, every week, you have to have that object nailed down. [While] you meet every week with a group of students you’re actually working on your own curated theme tour, which is five objects. Once you’ve come up with your individual tour of your five items you present that once a semester.


Q: What’s your themed tour?

A: Mine is called “Storytelling Through Costume.” It’s basically looking at how clothing sheds light on a certain time or period or place and how we can learn a lot from the people and the society depicted by their clothing. It really gives an interesting historic perspective. 


Q: Are there any requirements to become a student guide?

A: The biggest requirement would be time. You spend time in the museum each week — 2-3 hours — and you rehearse your object for the group so they can give feedback and you have to go to each of those meetings with the big group to get feedback on how your tour is going and the development. And you have to have consistent meetings with Kendra [the student guide program organizer] too, so that she knows that you’re working. It’s very individual in the sense that you do all the research yourself and you come up with the format of your tour and all the information you want to choose and the angle you want to view these objects in. It’s sort of like a class. You have to finish one object by a certain deadline of the week so you can move on to researching another one. It’s steps. You go one object at a time and then at the end you put them all together. 


Q: How do you conduct research?

A: Kendra will help us out too. She’s given me a lot of academic journals and articles and a lot of books I have. You do an initial Google search and that guides you. For me, I find the time period and then I go into clothing of the time period and research more. It’s like writing a mini research paper for each object and at the end connecting it all together under your theme. It is like a thesis, proving why these objects are linked together. My [objects] spanned a whole range of time; I went from ancient to modern. Having to find a common theme and thread and make sure your audience understands why these are all connected.


Q: How often do you give tours?

A:  So they have several tour requests each semester. I think on average they have three to four requests. If it fits in your schedule you can [do the tour]. I’ve done a girl scout group, a senior center group and a Holyoke High School one. 


Q: What’s the best part?

A: I think learning more about art and learning how to speak about art is really cool. I am an Art History major and it helps me guide my academic experience here. I’ve done an Independent study in relation to the tour I created and it helped guide me into more things I’m interested in. And I became more historically literate. I became more aware. On a holistic level, just listening to other people talk about their object and me talk about my object you learn so much about humans and human history in so many lenses, from so many perspectives and themes. To sit and talk to people every week about art is what I want to do all the time because you learn so much.


Q: What’s the hardest part?

A:  I think the hardest part is when you’re giving tours, sometimes you’ll get unexpected questions. You practice for so long and then you get in this groove and you’re used to the same questions your guides ask you in practice and then you get thrown a curveball question about something you didn’t focus on in the art. Expecting the unexpected, because that does happen in tours. 


Q: Are you planning on continuing to work in museums once you graduate?

A:  I actually don’t think I am. I thought for a long time I wanted to be a curator and maybe I do eventually. I do want to do something visual, maybe some kind of visual merchandising. I don’t know if I want to work in a museum, but I would always go back to it because this has been a very amazing experience. 


Q: How can students get involved if interested?

A: I think they’re looking for people to start in their program next year and I think they’re full this year. Theyare always looking for people passionate about art. I was a freshman and just wanted to be involved and they could definitely accommodate that. Talk to Kendra or Ellen Alvord, the education coordinator for the museum. They are totally welcoming to people who are interested and want to be involved in some way. 


Grossman’s Museum Tour “Dressing the Part: Storytelling through Costume” will take place at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Art Museum.