Museum Job Spotlight: Lorie Millward
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My name is… Lorie Millward
The name of my museum is… Thanksgiving Point Institute
My job title is… Curator of Curiosity
What do you mostly work on?
It is my job to ensure that all of our venues, exhibits, programming and people promote and model curiosity and playful exploration. To do that, I work as part of the core creative team that envisions, designs, and guides construction of new venues and exhibits and evaluates and refines existing venues and exhibits. I am also Director of Education, working with a team of 75 curious Explorers who share leadership and governance of the Department. This fine team of humans expertly develop programming and facilitation strategies that bring out the curiosity and playfulness in our guests. Besides curating the curious, I serve on the Institute’s management team, assisting with development, advocacy, and all things museum.
What specific skills enable you to succeed in your job?
- Ongoing learning is crucial. There are so many things I don’t know, and that exhilarates me and pushes me forward.
- Knowing how to take a punch (literally or figuratively) and still maintain resolve.
- Empathy is essential. Empathy for guests, coworkers, policy makers, and myself makes me more sensitive to the needs of others and to building important relationships.
What is the best advice you ever received from a museum professional?
Trust yourself and speak up – especially if you have a different viewpoint or idea.
What advice would you give to the aspiring museum professional?
Treat the job search like you do dating. “Date” the places you are interested in working to determine your compatibility. Visit as a guest, sign up for and attend some programs, talk with the people who work and volunteer there, sit in the cafe and listen to other guests. Find out if your way of thinking/being is celebrated there and if there are interesting growth opportunities that will challenge you and help you build your identity as a museum professional.
Take the long view. Getting your foot in the door with an entry level position at a museum that you really want to be part of is far more valuable than landing a higher level position at a place that doesn’t excite or cultivate you.
What is your earliest memory of being in a museum?
Actually, I didn’t set foot in a museum until I began working in one as an adult. I was raised in a very rural, museum-free area. I guess I always assumed that museums were for “other” people who lived in “other” places. Over the past 30 years, I have made memories in museums across the planet and seek them out as a starting point in my travels as a way to orient myself to and learn the essentials about a new place and its people.
How did you find your way into the museum industry?
My path was circuitous and full of adventure. I didn’t aspire to be a museum professional but rather sought out opportunities to explore the world through creative and scientific endeavors that challenged and inspired me. Along the way, I worked as a dancer, zoo keeper, field biologist, educator, artist, and museum volunteer – usually creating my own positions by convincing others that I was essential to their organization. It has been nearly 30 years since I started in this field as a volunteer and have worked in just about every museum position one can imagine. This allowed me to build a holistic understanding of museums and provided me with the growth opportunities that I draw on daily as part of the management team of a large, multi-venue complex.
Please give a quick overview of your department/museum.
Thanksgiving Point is a not-for-profit multi-museum complex that draws on the natural world to cultivate transformative family learning. Our existing venues include The Museum of Natural Curiosity, where people of all ages come to play and explore their creativity; Ashton Gardens, where a person can be immersed in 55 acres of natural goodness; Farm Country, where one can experience the day to day workings of a real farm; and The Museum of Ancient Life, where families can experience what the LA Times called “the Taj Mahal” of dinosaur museums.
All of our venues highlight a different content area, but all are wonderful access points for exploring the world with family (which we define as a group of people who care about one another) and engaging in the process of playful learning.
We take play very seriously and therefore design exhibits, programs, and personal interactions to facilitate exploration, wonder, discourse, and discovery.
What’s your favorite object or piece of art in your museum and why?
There is an exhibit of trilobites in the Museum of Ancient Life that makes me stop and stare in wonder every time I enter the gallery. The astounding variation of form, size, and location of origin makes me curious about past life on earth and pokes me to learn about similar contemporary organisms. The first animal thought to have eyes?!?! Way to amaze, nature! Way to amaze.
What is a story that most people don’t know about your museum or its collection?
The original 1984 movie “Footloose” was filmed at Thanksgiving Point and we have staff that were cast members in the film. So my degree of separation from Kevin Bacon is ONE!
What inspires you about your museum’s mission?
I’m inspired by the idea of transformative family learning. Too often we focus on how children learn or how adults learn, but forget about the power of shared, equitable experiences that allow us to co-create knowledge and build memories that can be truly transformational. When a child plays/learns alongside a caregiver, she or he comes to understand that curiosity, wonder, and play are lifelong endeavors. What an important thing to know!
Drawing on the natural world to cultivate transformative learning also inspires me. I love that our focus is global, all-encompassing, and yet intimately familiar. Nature is a true teacher, providing innumerable opportunities to explore, be curious, make amazing discoveries, and to connect with one another in meaningful ways.