Post Grad

Center of the Art World

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.

Post Grad

NYC During the COVID-19 Crisis

Changes disrupting daily life have emerged faster than a New York minute over the past week. In the course of three days the city has begun to shut down. Life as we know it is evolving to the quick changes implemented across the world. But that doesn’t mean people are taking the hint.

Let’s start on Wednesday, March 4. I was offered an extension on my internship that would technically turn into a paid, temp position (yay!). The position entailed my support at a slew of events planned with the museum in tandem with the conjoining city-wide events with Frieze Week, one of the biggest art shows New York holds every year. I felt so happy that the Development team understood my work ethic and wanted to keep me on board for additional time. I texted my mom – excited to share that I would stay in New York until late May (hoping this opportunity would definitely turn into a PT or FT position).

A couple of days later on Friday, March 6. I was attending the Armory Show with some of the other Guggenheim interns. This is the other big art show New York holds every spring – hosting an average of 55,000-65,000 attendees each year. The general sentiment at the time was that this virus was not as serious as everyone was making it out to be. People were still somewhat mindful that ‘something was going around’, but no one was fully practicing extra health precautions. The first confirmed case in NYC was not announced until March 1.

Going around the Armory Show there were about a couple dozen people I saw donning masks and gloves, and even one wearing lab goggles. Hand sanitizer stations were posted by food outposts and restrooms, signs reminding attendees of good hygiene practices. Booths and works were clustered close together. People were mindful of avoiding personal contact with one another. But there was no fear what-so-ever.

Saturday night, March 7 I went out. It was the first time I went out at night since living in the city. I spent an evening with a fellow cohort mate of my master’s program, Marissa, who lives and works in NYC. We strolled across the Village for a half hour or so looking for a place to eat that wasn’t a two-hour wait. We ended up at a gluten-free Italian place where I enjoyed overpriced bruschetta and a glass of red wine – that had every table full of happy and loud people. Then we shifted closer to NYU and went to a two-story bar that only reminds me that I was glad to be out of college. We spent 45 minutes or so there. I can’t tell you how many people I was around, but I can tell you that I later regretted the decision to potentially expose myself to someone with COVID-19.

before the COVID-19 outbreak, using dishes that would need to be washed

Before and after implementing food service changes

after the COVID-19 outbreak, using dishes that should be thrown away after use

Living in an all-women boarding house the staff were smart to decide that they would immediately implement safe food serving and cleaning practices. Our meals were served cafeteria-style with an additional soup and salad bar set out. Now everything is prepared and served behind the counter. They have silverware already wrapped up in napkins ready to go, all food items are prepared by food service staff, and our drinks must be poured into provided containers instead of directly into our own personal water bottles or mugs. Just a couple of days ago they transitioned into single-use plastic and paper products instead of washing dishes. Common spaces and bathrooms are cleaned multiple times a day. The risk is too high.

Sunday, March 8 I visited the Whitney Museum of American Art. I used the High Line to get there since I live right next to Hudson Yards where it begins/ends. There were many visitors to the museums, cramming in to see their coveted exhibition, Vida Americana. Truth be told I was there solely for that reason as well. After discovering their permanent collection (I forgot about Demuth’s My Egypt!) and their temporary exhibition, I wandered out to the balcony to bask in the sun. It was such a great sense of carelessness. I was living in the moment. Pinching myself over the views, the weather, and the overall sense of happiness I was experiencing.

Monday, March 9, it was a normal day where I caught my 9:20ish E train to WTC and it was nowhere near as crowded as it would have been on a typical morning. I had no concern about finding a seat or worrying about someone cramming in the middle seat next to me. I ate my lunch outside in Zuccotti Park (remember Occupy Wall Street?) since it was such an abnormally warm and sunny day. Again, I did not have to worry about finding a seat since there were not as many people there as usual.

Wednesday, March 11 was my first (and last) day stationed at the museum just to shadow the public-facing membership desk on the floor. This was built into my schedule two weeks ago so this was either good or bad planning. Before opening to the public, sanitation workers were already deep cleaning all high touch surfaces (doors and door handles, countertops, elevator buttons, etc.). We also spent some time wiping off our desk countertops, credit card readers and buttons, computer keyboards, etc. Over an hour into opening we had maybe, maybe 150 people come through our doors. I spent only an hour and a half at the desk which resulted in interacting directly with two members (being handed their membership card or photo ID). Yes, I immediately used hand sanitizer following those interactions.

The night before we had already decided to cancel our March 27 Art After Dark program. We planned to send the email blast that afternoon. Unfortunately, our email inbox was still receiving questions about the event or people already asking for refunds. After lunch I transitioned upstairs to the office space for membership to assist Huong with typical inbox and phone inquiries to alleviate those concerns before the inbox was inundated with ‘please refund my tickets’ emails. We were warned shortly before the emails went out and within 5 minutes, the inbox was flooded. I felt so stressed and helpless to the team because I was not allowed to assist with that project. Surprisingly, people were only making phone calls in response to the mailing they recently got to renew their membership early and receive an additional two months (our normal renewal cycles).

Thursday, March 12 I stayed in my apartment the entire day, applying for jobs, seeking solace in career ambitions. I also spent time planning my ‘final day of fun’ for the next day where I wanted to swing by before being confined to my apartment building for the indefinite future.

Friday, March 13 was a day I needed for my mental health. I did indeed take the subway, but for the least amount of time possible. I wore gloves, sat away from everyone, and rode the quickest trains. I first went over to Brooklyn to drop by DUMBO, take in that one photo sans Empire State Building between the legs of the Manhattan Bridge because it was so cloudy. There was only a couple other people there that I had take my photo (to which I wiped down after they did that), and nannies out walking children in strollers along the waterfront. There was a deep sense of gloom. Not only because of the weather, but the pure lack of people and signs of everyday life.

Continuing on in the direction of the piers spilling out into the East River and the bay, I walked to pier 5, out towards the water. I spent about 15 minutes or so watching the fog roll off Lady Liberty’s upward arm. The clouds slicing FiDi’s buildings in half. An ominous chill sweeping up from the Atlantic. At that moment, I felt compelled to check my email. Lo and behold two emails from my Guggenheim account declaring my deep suspicion 1. since the museum is closed indefinitely, interns cannot telecommute or work remotely; and 2. that my extension was no longer needed for the Advancement team.

I was not surprised. These documents merely confirmed my deepest fear – what is going to happen? I am still in the dark. My spring internship is supposed to go until Friday, April 17. My flight home was planned for that Sunday, April 19. At the bare minimum most NYC public institutions are closed until at least the end of the month. After that who knows? The city is not closed. There is a great sense of pressure to do so. But the state of New York is under a state of emergency. Mayor de Blasio is being called upon by City Council members to #ShutDownNYC, including the decision to close restaurants and bars. Although, New Yorkers can sign up for text alerts by texting COVID to 692-692… Live updates are found here.

Tourists and locals alike have proven that they either do not care or are fully informed with how serious this situation is. The problem lies in the people that act reckless because they think are causing no harm by being out and about, exposing themselves to anyone and everyone. By unknowingly becoming a vector in carrying the virus, you can risk infecting immunocompromised individuals that will most likely not survive the consequences of getting sick from COVID-19. People packed into bars and restaurants Saturday, March 14. Ages across the board represented with an infant as well as folks in their 50s. People that are panic buying a lifetime supply of toilet paper. I don’t get it. There is a reason why work and schools have shifted to remote communication! It really feels like the beginning of a horror movie.

At this time, I think it is best that I try to return home as soon as possible. I just received an email from HR at the Guggenheim (as of 8:31pm Sun. Mar. 15) that an employee at the downtown office, who was there Monday morning, is showing symptoms that are presumptively COVID-19. I was there Monday morning… This is why you must remain at home! It can take up to 10 days for people to be symptomatic.

Given how quickly changes are being made everywhere, I wouldn’t doubt that domestic flights are going to be severely limited or discontinued indefinitely. It makes the most sense for my mental and physical health to go back to Kansas. Not to mention the financial benefit of not paying NYC rent and inflated prices for an additional month.

What have I been doing? Finally writing some new content for my website, finishing the series I’ve been watching on Netflix, taking long naps, watercoloring, getting up to the rooftop of my building for some vitamin D, and reading. It is in everyone’s best interest to stay inside. The city will always be here, and I shall return home.

Post Grad

My Kind of Place

I can bet that just about everyone has dreamt of living in New York City. Whether it’d be a good fit or not is a different problem, but for me, I think it just works. I know it’s only been a week and some change since I landed at LaGuardia in a complete haze that I get to live this dream (albeit for only three months), but I know when I find something I like it.

People are constantly in a rush to be somewhere else. The pace of life is nothing like the midwest where I’ve grown up. New York’s streets hide absolutely nothing. The candor of ‘locals’ trashing on all of the touristy sites, MTA, and Jersey is refreshing.

My morning commute is less than 30 minutes door to door. Which is spectacular! What is less so enthralling with the mundane daily routine is the ride back home afterwards. The train cars have clumps of people strung together by the doors rushing to make the 6:08pm train uptown, while those seated and hanging onto the railings between doors are in a state between comfortable and wariness. I myself am a good subway passenger, getting up for those who need my seat more than myself, and confining my existence into a space only envied by a package of sardines. Yet, I’m left with the unknown ‘right’ response to someone who is taking up space that could also be occupied by someone else, or the person incessantly coughing at stops into the hand they are using to hold onto the railings.

The mob mentality of New Yorkers is to simply ignore. Tuned out to the rest of the world via wireless headphones blasting the latest Beck album or the guilty pleasure podcast. Typically paired with some mindless knockoff of Bejeweled or Candy Crush. I choose to follow the crowd by defaulting to an overplayed playlist of last year’s jams, followed by the blank staring of the overhead bed sheets ad plastered in the entire car.

My office is incredibly quiet for how many people there are. Desks are separated with partitions that isolate the neighboring work stations only if seated. There is the occasional quip of making a deadline to a co-worker or conferring over a model of the museum’s rotunda. This condition is of my concern in that part of my internship entails answering phone calls, in fact, many calls. Then again, the office is a reflection of the preference to work ‘separately’ by communicating through your computer’s work-approved instant messenger program or phone extensions than face to face. Which I fully approve of quite honestly. I don’t even have to state when exactly I’ll take my lunch (which is allotted an entire hour) or if step away from my desk for a 15 minute break. This work environment, unsure if it is similar to other NY offices or its own situation, just works.

Amidst the throngs of homeless people and flashy business folks playing chicken on the sidewalk while they check their emails – I find a peaceful balance of the hustle and bustle. My 9′ x 13′ private room is my safe haven. The weird noises from my pipes and radiator, traffic at my doorstep – honking and sirens aplenty, barking from the tiny rat of a dog that lives across the street, have all become white noise. They now lull me to sleep instead of stirring me awake at 4:30am.

Sure, I have not yet explored beyond my little bubble. In my favor, the spring weather and timing of completing my thesis will go hand in hand for my plans to escape the artificiality of Herald Square in my backyard come March. Let’s just hope my wallet is willing to accept the fate of having the world of food at my fingertips and discounted admission to museums across the city.