Small, but Ambitious

1980s Community Ontario Street Staff

Lynne Warren describes what it was like working for the MCA in the 1980s.

It was really only a handful of people. And I think what people don’t realize as well is that up until really we moved into the current building in 1996, the curatorial staff was one, two, two-and-a-half people. A chief curator, me, then I went part-time, and then we'd sometimes have a second full-time person being the collection curator, or a special projects kind of hire. But very bare-boned. And I don't think we had interns until maybe the early or mid-eighties, when we first started hiring curatorial interns. And of course Ann Goldstein, famously, is one of the interns that Mary Jane Jacob hired and went on to great art world importance. So, the fact that we did some of those shows that we did, like Mary Jane Jacob's shows, which were so ambitious, and in numbers of locations, with such a tiny staff, was, when I look back on it, I'm just going—because we were also doing catalogues. And we didn't have in-house staff to do catalogues. We had hired outside people. So, outside editors, outside designers.

But also back in those days, there were no computers, so you didn't do production in a very fast way. And everything was by hand. So, I think the amount of man hours that staff put in in those years was probably commensurate in a way to the type of man-hours that go into a project now. There's just more staff, so those man-hours are broken up in a different way. But that congeniality of the staff—I do remember there were always some tensions and things, but the people seemed to really have such common cause and got along and worked together, and if there were problems it was more miscommunications that can happen anywhere. But we didn't have a whole bunch of, you know, rules and regulations. There weren't a whole bunch of standards and practices the way there are now. So, we were all learning on the job, basically, how to run a contemporary art museum.

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Video still, Behind the Scenes at an Art Museum. © MCA Chicago.

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MCA staff members are interviewed in 1997 about their work. Interviews include Torri Johnson, security officer; Margaret Farr, assistant director of education; Pablo Helguera, coordinator of public programs; Dominic Molon,. . . more
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