2022 Gardner Fellows: Rebecca Jacobson and her mentor, Caitlin Evans

March 27, 2023

Growing up in the Bay Area, a field trip to the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is a rite of passage for many elementary school students, but it is also a well known gathering place for the community. When I was searching for a placement with the Gardner Fellowship, OMCA was at the top of my list. At OMCA, I have the pleasure of working with a small team of museum educators who have trusted me with leading a few projects as a fellow. 

One of my core projects as a fellow is working on a monthly activity for OMCA’s Friday Nights with Off the Grid. The first month that I completely led the project was in February when we had the joy of working with the West Oakland Mural Project (WOMP) to create a community mural inspired by the women of the Black Panther Party. This project was not a simple undertaking, but it was an incredibly rewarding experience. After months of working with WOMP and its mural artist, Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, the event came to fruition. This Friday Night, guests were welcomed to paint a mural that was outlined by Rachel. For almost four hours, members of our Oakland community painted together and celebrated the powerful, pioneering women of the Black Panther Party. I was able to speak with many community members who were excited to participate and were thrilled that their art would now become a part of the museum. This event was an incredible opportunity and an amazing way to kick-off leading a Friday Night activity. I experienced so closely the impact that OMCA has on our community and it is a privilege to be a small part of it.

The Gardner Fellowship has connected me to a mentor who has years of invaluable experience and museum expertise. My mentor, Caitlin Evans, not only guides me through my projects, but spends time teaching me about the ins-and-outs of museum work and politics. She has given me the opportunity to take part in conversations that an emerging museum professional is not normally in. Instead of throwing me into these experiences, she provides me with background knowledge that can take years to gain and gives me the confidence to contribute to the conversation. 

Having a mentor is an unparalleled advantage in my work. Being able to have someone at my job who is invested in my professional development means that each assignment I work on is not only a product for the museum, but a chance for me to grow and learn new skills. I get one-on-one time every week, where my mentor gives me feedback on my projects, prepares me to engage in networking engagements, and allows me to ask questions that the people around me already know the answer to from their years of experience and higher education. These meetings are the most formalized part of the mentor-mentee relationship, but they are not the extent of it. My mentor is someone I check-in with informally whenever we are in the office –my desk happens to be right next to hers. Without the support of a mentor, I could have easily become lost in this new setting, but with her help, I have integrated into OCMA and found my footing.

It can be extraordinarily difficult to break into the museum field and, more often than not, requires privilege and connections. To work full-time in museum education without a masters degree often means pursuing unpaid internships. The Gardner Fellowship has given me the opportunity to work full-time in my field and gain knowledge and skills that my peers may have had the luxury to do so on their own. I can now go forward in my career, understanding fully that museum education is what I want to pursue and having the confidence that I can do this work.