Works and Days



Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Reed Winter Externship Program, Liana Clark

Text reads “Meeting of Union Pacific Board of Directors, The Republican National Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 3rd, 2000”

Liana Clark, senior art major, joined the team of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Iowa as a part of the Reed College Winter Externship Program.

On several occasions my mother has told me that I'm "the best person to go to a museum with." I'm sure others would disagree - not that they would be noting a different trend than she did. For as long as I can remember, I've been extremely critical of the wall text, the arrangement of art objects or artifacts, or whatever general narratives the gallery space is attempting to project with their exhibitions. This tendency to critique only intensified after I declared myself as an art major at Reed. Still, I never seriously considered working in a museum. For me, the fun of rolling my eyes at a reductionist perspective on an artist's legacy, or quoting Fred Wilson ("museums are great silencers of dissent") after reading an exposé that seemed to stretch the truth, was my own little exercise in futile expression of exacerbation. I didn't expect it to go anywhere.

One night, my housemate and I were trying to figure out what we should do over winter break.  We decided it would probably be worthwhile to apply for Reed's winter externship program, but since the form only lets applicants select a single location (and we didn't feel especially competitive), we laughingly chose the most intriguing - but hopefully least enticing to our peers - destinations.  Seeing as the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is not only a corporate museum (bound to offend the average Reedie's anti-establishment sensibilities), but it is also in Council Bluffs, Iowa (which in the middle of winter, didn't exactly call for the same uniform as the beach in Miami), it seemed like I'd have a good shot. I figured this could be my chance to see what it was really like to work for a museum. Besides, at the very least, it would definitely supply me with great material for the next time I wanted to complain about what was badly executed about a glass case of silverware in the Legion of Honor.