Wow. It has been a month and a half since I have willingly shared my initial thoughts of being in the city. Boy, has a lot changed.
The so-called honeymoon phase of moving to a new place is exciting. You’re embracing not only a new geographical situation but a new cultural world to navigate through. New York is the epitome of endless possibilities. People from all walks of life are condensed into this metropolis. These people offer a bit of their own heart and life into their work, whether that is through street food or a makeshift shop around a city park. I love it.
I love hearing exchanges in all of the languages and accents New Yorkers have to offer. I love walking down the street and not seeing a majority of people that look like me. I love stumbling across unexpected eateries and (appetizing) smells. I love it here.
Which is why I have now become persistent that I live here in the near future for at least a few years. Since arriving to New York I have been looking and applying for jobs in cultural institutions. I am quite determined.
I stand my previous opinion that I thoroughly enjoy the work and environment I have been a part of with the Guggenheim (I am their Membership and Annual Fund spring intern). I never imagined myself being comfortable taking many phone calls with museum members (let alone at the Gugg!) to answer inquiries, renew or upgrade their membership, or redirect their call. I would never know what to expect on the other end.
The other half of my public-facing responsibilities is primarily through emails in the General Membership inbox. There are typically seven different types of emails that come through: general questions regarding upcoming events, an interest of joining/renewing/upgrading membership, update personal info (address or second person’s name on account), tax acknowledgement letter requests, PayPal confirmation receipts, voicemail recordings from missed phone calls, and the outlandish emails that only my supervisor or someone else on the team knows how to handle (there are a lot more than you’d think).
Fortunately, I am able to answer most emails that come through the inbox. I always have my cheat sheet with anything and everything someone could ask about the museum, membership, or upcoming exhibitions. You name it, I’ve most likely answered it. Even if the inquiry is not related to membership what-so-ever. Sometimes people just send an email to the first address they encounter, which is usually membership.
I felt proud and satisfied that I was serving the public in my role, to represent the Guggenheim (still in shock most days!!), and to have such a supportive and positive team. We (Membership and Annual Fund) includes myself, Huong – my super cool supervisor (associate), Laura and Sabrina – a couple of fun gals my age that work at the membership desk at the museum with Joey and Anthony – who also work at the desk, but have yet to meet IRL (membership sales associates), Tay – another super cool person (manager), and last but not least – Brooke (director).
As the membership intern, I also handle small projects that take no more than a couple of hours. These can be going through returned mail and then reaching out to that person for the current and correct mailing address to resend that mail. Or I could be fulfilling mail merges for letters and envelopes (properly printing out these items on letterhead paper and envelopes – which have resulted in many back and forth runs to the printer). Or I could be fulfilling catalogue mailings for particular members that cannot come to the museum to pick it up.
All days have been placed at the FiDi location where most of the museum’s administrative offices are. The museum (referred to by its mailing address number – 1071) only houses on-site staff which includes education, visitor experience, and food service. I used to be self-conscious that I would be the only one speaking on the phone within the block of desks. I quickly moved on from that fear by fully embracing my role, no matter how loudly and clearly I had to speak for someone who needed that on the other end of the line.
At the beginning of my internship the membership team was significantly short-staffed. They were in the process of hiring both full-time and part-time sales associates, and Brooke was on maternity leave for another few weeks. My one-on-one time with Huong was relatively brief. She would spend chunks of time introducing me to specific tasks within Raiser’s Edge, or in the inbox that I would help out with. I knew that over time and constant interaction with these programs and tasks that I would be more confident in this skillset.
After almost two months into my internship, I braved 1071 for a day to experience what the membership desk faces on a daily basis. The museum opens at 10am, which meant I was to be on the floor at 9:30am for the daily huddle of frontline staff for daily announcements. Doors open, but there is no line. People eventually flow in. After a quick bag check and wanding from security, visitors seem to drift over to the membership desk for some reason. Even after reading the literal signs that say membership, visitors will come up to the desk asking to or where to purchase general admission tickets.
The first hour or so was quite slow. We checked in maybe five members? During Sabrina’s break I spent some time clicking around the computer to better understand ClickPoint and how to check-in a member if they came to the desk. In addition to our members, we are also responsible for checking in patrons with an assortment of criteria such as cardholders of a specific credit card program, artists, SUNY-NYC students, members of reciprocal museum institutions, and many more.
With the emergence of the Countryside, The Future exhibition, we (staff engaging directly with the public) have received a number of interesting comments and questions.
After experiencing our front desk and an enjoyable (and cheap!) staff lunch at our restaurant/café – for the time being – I had a meeting with Huong to briefly review mail merging for a new responsibility assigned to the Membership team. If anyone is interested in working at a museum, they have to be flexible and willing to learn quickly. I love a new challenge that requires attention to detail. Shortly after this encounter, our anticipated email was sent out to members and ticket holders for our March Art After Dark.
We had to cancel our event as the city and state started to finally respond to the coronavirus crisis. In turn, we asked ticket holders to either email that they wanted a refund or to donate their ticket value to the Annual Fund. The inbox soon became inundated with short and friendly ‘please refund tickets’ emails with the rare ‘this is ridiculous!’ response. LOL. I was best assisting the team by answering the phone and taking care of non-AAD related emails in the inbox. It was an exhausting day for Huong and Tay as they fought to organize and coordinate refund efforts.
I happened to have been there on March 11, the day before the city-wide announcement was made that all museums would be closed indefinitely thanks to COVID-19. You can read more about my experiences by clicking here.
Outside of my internship I had been finishing up my thesis. To spare frustrating details as well as the effect of COVID-19 over in Italy… I will not be graduating until this August. This is not quite what I had anticipated nor wanted, but in today’s climate it is what’s best for everyone. I will have an additional two months of deliberation with my thesis advisor for edits. My new defense date isn’t even until mid-July.
Fortunately, as a temporary New Yorker, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Hollander in person to meet with her to get to know her and share more about myself and my project. Over a glass of white wine, I delved into the positives and negatives of my master’s program, my current situation, aspirations for my career, and life lessons that are applicable to anyone. This conversation felt so empowering and liberating that at least someone else understands my predicament and personable to engage with. I am really looking forward to continue working with her!
When I was finally done handling my thesis for awhile, I made time to enjoy New York. I would plan out an entire day for me to walk around, visit some sites, eat good food, and just de-stress. The time I allotted for myself was really important to my mental health. It was the only time I could be social outside of a school and work environment. Yes, I was doing these activities by myself, but I felt energized by the people around me that were just … living life.
In a place like New York it isn’t weird at all to do things by yourself. People ride the subway, go to coffee shops, eat out, go for a walk, etc. all the time by themselves. This was one more reason why I have become so determined to move here. My personality and aptitude to get out and explore and do things by myself was normal. If I did such a thing back home, not only would I probably run into someone I know, but I would get some side-eye depending on where I was.
After living in the chaos of my first city experience – Florence, I couldn’t have done such an extreme case – such as NY what-so-ever. There are weirdos and homeless people everywhere. They were there in Florence too. But I can honestly argue that I have enough street smarts to best handle those situations. The best line of defense? Headphones, sunglasses, and a confident walk. I always wield those tools with me anytime I leave my apartment.
The most terrifying thing I’ve seen on the subway (so far) has been a woman wearing nothing but a wife beater, shuffling around the other end of the car, and making her bed for the time being on a stretch of seats on a C train. She came out of nowhere. Again, best to pretend nothing is happening and mind your own business. From time to time on the subway when there is a performer swinging from the poles, I will give a side glance, breaking my act that I have no idea that that is happening. But I will shortly resume reading The Goldfinch (I feel like I’ve been reading it forever) on my phone, with a slight sideways grin of happiness.
I’m not sure if I am still in the midst of the honeymoon phase or if I have a high resilience to the craziness of New York (specifically Manhattan), but I love it here. I want to stay here. I ❤ NY.