November 13, 2017
By Chacho Herman
The Director sat across his desk from me. I’d just become the new Store Manager and was feeling pretty good about the job I had been doing. He looked at me and said bluntly, “You’re too passive. You need to be more assertive. Stop being so weak. You need to toughen up.” You’d think that I would have been stunned to hear that, but I wasn’t. This is something I needed to hear. I needed something like this said to me to push me to be better. I felt like I had been doing a good job for him and the museum, but his words pushed me to do much more.
A year or so later I was in a very long and difficult negotiation in which that same Director was also participating, and I was remembering what he had said. A major exhibition was coming to The San Diego Museum of Art, which could be very lucrative for the store and museum. I was negotiating with someone deeply involved with this incoming exhibition. He would also be importing the items from Russia that we were, by contract, required to carry. I was offered a price I could live with – not great, but like I said, I could live with it – for the merchandise. But, he also wanted half of our profit from those items. That’s where I remembered those words from the director and “toughened up”. That’s where I got stubborn, strong and insistent. After a few hours of talking to this guy the Director decided it was time for a break and took me aside. He said to just give the guy what he wanted, but I refused. In the end, after another 6 hours, I was able to get what all parties thought was a good deal. The exhibition turned out to be very successful for the museum, museum store, and my career.
I’ve worked with a lot of people at The San Diego Museum of Art, and I’ve learned a lot from many of them, including that director from nearly three decades ago. I was able to take what he said and use it to my advantage. I also learned that day to remain strong and trust my intuition to achieve good results for everyone. There is a wide breadth of skill sets gained from being a museum store professional that can help propel you towards a broader position within your institution and beyond. The skill sets I acquired helped me transition to my new position within the museum.
Before taking on my new role as Associate Director of Earned Income, I worked cross-departmentally, which gave me insight on how other departments worked. From Admissions to Curatorial, and Maintenance to Administration, I gained knowledge of the interworking of a great museum. I now apply that knowledge to what I do today. Nearly every day I use the things I’ve learned about working on contracts, developing budgets, problem solving, coordinating programs, and managing people and projects in new ways. Thankfully I haven’t fully relinquished my duties as a Museum Store Manager (my favorite part of the job!), but now I also run our admissions department, and oversee our amazing new restaurant (come visit!).
I imagine that all of you have worked with many types of people and from different departments within your institution and learned a thing or two from those interactions. You have worked on your budgets, negotiated with vendors to get the best deals, and encouraged your staff to get the most out of their performance. That’s one of the great things about our profession: by working with a wide breadth of individuals and disciplines to develop an ever expanding skill set, we prepare ourselves to take on bigger roles. We become more valuable and appreciated both inside and outside our institutions. So, next time the director is blunt with you – heed the advice, use it to your advantage, and let your museum see what you can really do!
Chacho Herman is the Associate Director of Earned Income for The San Diego Museum of Art in San Diego, CA. He loves the MSA and has been a member for 23 years. He had the pleasure to serve on the MSA’s board as a Director at Large and as Secretary.