Spotlight – Keonna Hendrick, Brooklyn Museum
Senior Museum Educator/Intern Coordinator, Brooklyn Museum
Keonna received an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and a graduate degree from The Ohio State University. She has been with the Brooklyn Museum for 7 years and in her current role for 4 years.
What was your first job? As a teenager, I worked as a summer camp counselor, leading elementary age children through sports, arts activities, and field trips. At the time, I thought that I’d never pursue a career in education—primarily because I equated teaching with classroom experiences—however, in many ways, the job laid the foundation for my career in museum and art education.
Why did you choose this career? My family and I rarely visited museums during my childhood. I didn’t fall in love with museums until adulthood and subsequently discovered the field of museum education. The field is small yet multifaceted, offering many areas of specialization while professionalizing quickly. I was attracted to museum education because I found that by guiding others through the process of exploring works of art I can support them in having personally meaningful experiences in which they gain inspiration, empathy and knowledge of themselves and the world. Whether through discussion or art making, I have seen time and time again the connection people make with art; however, many communities have limited access to arts-based experiences and cultural resources. I pursued and have been involved in museum education in an effort to make art and cultural institutions more accessible to non-traditional audiences.
What is the skill that is most important in your current role? Collaboration is the key
to success in museums and arts-based non-profits. My responsibilities range from hiring interns, to training emerging museum educators, to teaching school groups. In all of my work, the ability to collaborate well with others is important to building relationships and helping others have meaningful learning experiences. This involves listening carefully to others, articulating my ideas clearly, responding thoughtfully, following through on my commitments, and learners and community partners.
How did you develop this skill and how do you fine-tune it regularly? The process of developing strong collaborative skills is ongoing. Through reflection I’ve become more aware of my communication style and the role I tend to take in a group while considering how both affect my relationships with others in the workplace. With this in mind, I’ve learned to consider the project and partners and adapt to different roles within the group as necessary. Collaboration can be challenging. I believe having an understanding of both the larger institutional vision and the day-to-day demands has helped me to be a stronger collaborator. I know that I do not work in isolation and others have expertise that I do not possess, therefore it’s helpful to remember that every employee is needed to support the health of the institution.
Did you have a mentor? I’ve received mentorship from several individuals throughout my career. They were instrumental in helping me to negotiate relationships and gain confidence and clarity as I made professional decisions. It’s been helpful to have the support of someone who has holds more experience, shares interests, offers advice gained from overcoming some of the challenges I face, and believes in my skills and success.
What is your biggest career accomplishment? As an educator, I have had many wonderful experiences with learners that have left them motivated and curious to learn more. Guiding emerging educators in developing the skills, attitudes, and knowledge to mentor and teach youth has been among the most rewarding experiences of my work because the results of strong educators are fulfilling experiences for learners.
What is your advice to students looking for their first job? The job search can be intimidating but taking the first steps by applying can relieve much of the anxiety around the process. I recommend using the resources available to you (websites, career centers, student groups, conferences, etc.) to find out about positions and let others know you are interested in professional opportunities. Many people find out about professional opportunities and are assisted in their application process by the relationships they have built with others. Maintain good relationships with your professors, intern supervisors, and fellow interns so that you can build a network of support that may not only assist you in learning of opportunities but also in preparing application materials and navigating the institution once you are hired.
What is your advice to young professionals in the field who aspire to your current role? For those who are interested in museum education, I would suggest developing a sound knowledge of teaching practices and educational theories. You can learn about tea by gaining as much teaching experience as you can in both formal and informal settings. Having a background in art history, history, cultural studies, studio art or anthropology will help you build strong collaboration with curators working in the museum to help audiences interpret the objects. If you are also thinking of coordinating internships and training interns then you will need to hone your organization and communication skills in order to work productively and compassionately with many individuals with diverse needs, interests, and personalities.
What was the best career advice you have ever received? When I was a little girl my grandmother told me to “work smarter, not harder”. At the time she wasn’t thinking of my career; however, I’ve taken her nod to the importance of critical thinking, efficiency and effectiveness and applied it to my professional life. She certainly didn’t say this to encourage me to cut corners or produce ineffective work; instead she wanted to encourage me to be a creative problem solver. Her advice has challenged me to take seemingly complex problems and work to develop creative and sustainable solutions that effectively use institutional resources, saving time and money. Needless to say organizations value this. As a result, I’ve been able to take on various leadership roles, trusted with important projects, and resources for developing new programs.
What would you like colleagues to know about your organization? The Brooklyn Museum is a wonderful institution to work, learn, and play! The museum is dedicated to the visitor experience, and committed to excellence in every aspect of its collections and programs. Drawing on both new and traditional tools of communication, interpretation, and presentation, the Museum aims to serve its diverse public as a dynamic, innovative, and welcoming center for learning through the visual arts. From internships to studio art courses to public programs, the Brooklyn Museum offers a number of ways adults and kids can become (and stay) involved in the organization.