Museum Job Spotlight: Alana Blumenthal
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My name is… Alana Blumenthal
The name of my museum is… Baranov Museum
My job title is… Curator of Collections and Exhibits
What do you mostly work on?
Everything having to do with the objects held by the Kodiak Historical Society. Most of my time is spent caring for the collections, maintaining and expanding the exhibits, and supporting outreach programs.
What specific skills enable you to succeed in your job?
I think critical thinking is the most important skill in my job. The ability to evaluate and prioritize information, especially when working with primary sources, is far more useful than memorizing dates.
What is the best advice you ever received from a museum professional?
“It’s okay to ask.” This is true everywhere in life, but as a museum professional it is always better to seek support when you don’t know than to potentially share misinformation.
What advice would you give to the aspiring museum professional?
My advice is to take risks and keep an open mind. For my first paid museum position, I moved from North Carolina to Colorado. My most recent move was from Virginia to Alaska. There is a whole wide world full of communities to explore, and nearly every one has a museum that it treasures. If you are looking for a job in a museum, cast a wide net. The opportunity of a lifetime is out there, and it’s not always where you would think to look.
How did you find your way into the museum industry?
I have always loved history, which led me to pursue a museum internship as an undergrad. My first internship was at The Jewish Museum in New York as a Research Assistant on a project cataloging ceremonial objects used by Jewish communities in predominantly Muslim countries. I quickly realized that working in museums would give me the best opportunity to explore and share the histories of a wide range of unique cultures. I love learning about new subjects, and in museums that is always a key part of my duties.
Please give a quick overview of your department/museum.
The Baranov Museum is housed in the oldest building in Alaska. We have 2,800 square feet of exhibition space and host numerous educational programs to share our collections with the 10,000 visitors a year, both local and tourists. The collections are a record of the history of Kodiak Island and surrounding communities. They demonstrate and preserve the rich and unique history of this island in the Gulf of Alaska, the location of the first non-native settlement in Alaska, the former capital of Russian America, and the headquarters of the Aleutian Campaign during World War II. Kodiak Island has been an international crossroads for the past 200 years and our collection reflects the diversity of our community. Our objects and archives come from Kodiak’s first people, the Alutiiq, whose rich culture has thrived here for at least the last 7,500 year, Russian colonists who made Kodiak their base for fur hunting and left a deep cultural legacy, early American settlers who introduced new ways, the Filipino and Hispanic immigrants who have made Kodiak their home, and the third largest commercial fishing harbor in the US.
What’s your favorite object or piece of art in your museum and why?
My favorite object in the collection is also one of the first, accessioned in 1956. It is a three-hatched bidarka (kayak) used for transportation and sea otter hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a very rare example of a complete bidarka, including its original sea lion skin covering. It is a very special object used at a time when many traditional practices were changing, and through it, we are able to tell a lot of important stories about the history of Kodiak and its inhabitants.
What inspires you about your museum’s mission?
The mission of the Kodiak Historical Society/Baranov Museum is “to facilitate exploration of the natural, cultural, and artistic heritage of Kodiak Island and surrounding communities.” There are a lot of diverse people on the Island, many with roots that trace back for millennia, and many (like myself) who are brand new to the community. There is a very welcoming attitude towards anyone who wants to learn more about this amazing location, its natural beauty, and its rich culture. It is inspiring to be a part of one of the centers of that collaborative approach to learning.