Meet the Board: Jessica Cyders
By: John Luchin
Please tell us a little about where you work and what you do there.
I am the curator at the Southeast Ohio History Center in Athens, Ohio. We are a small museum with a small staff, so I get to do a little bit of everything. I work to preserve and catalog the more than 70,000 artifacts in
our collection, I design and build exhibits, and I do educational outreach for students of all ages. Working in a small institution means that every day is different.
My favorite part of my job is managing our professional internship program, which gives students from Ohio University and Hocking College the opportunity to develop hands-on curation skills. I love the enthusiasm and curiosity they bring to our museum, and I am always proud when one of our former students becomes a colleague in our field.
What is your earliest museum memory?
I’ve loved the dinosaurs at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History from a very young age.
I also have strong and funny memories of the Houston Museum of Natural History, specifically the planetarium. There was a long hallway leading to the planetarium lit with black lights. The effect of the black lights turning my white shoelaces purple scared me so much that my mom had to carry me out.
What led you to go into the museum field?
Completely by accident! I had just come home after spending two years overseas. I visited Hale Farm and Village in Akron and I left with a job as an interpreter. I’ve been hooked ever since.
My background is in history and communications, so everything that I’ve learned about curation and exhibit design I’ve learned on the job. I may not have followed the usual path to a museum career, but I have wonderful mentors, and I’m grateful every day that I get to do what I love.
What is your workspace like?
My desk is in one corner of our newly renovated collections lab, a space that I share with our student interns and three full-time volunteers. It has a great view of our storage shelves.
The collections room is the hub for our internship program, and having my desk in the lab means that I rarely have down-time. If I ever need peace and quiet, I’ve set up a
small table with a cutting mat and encapsulation tools in the far back corner. For some reason, I find paper preservation very soothing. Some people practice yoga; I encapsulate documents.
What item in your office can you not live without?
My travel mug. It’s designed for tea, but it usually just holds water. It goes wherever I go.
Describe your favorite work memory. What was your best day like?
I feel a great sense of satisfaction whenever I complete a project, whether it’s putting a box on a shelf, or opening an exhibit. However, my favorite work memory started as something small and ordinary and has grown to something extraordinary.
About four years ago, I sent an email to a photographer who worked for the local newspaper in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and he was looking for a home for his collection. That email has sparked three major exhibits and numerous smaller ones, an Ohio Humanities Council grant for a documentary photography project, improved visibility in our community, and several close friendships.
What does your dream museum look like?
My dream museum is still under construction. In January 2016, we bought a 1916 church building in the heart of Uptown Athens. We have been renovating the building to bring it back to its original grandeur, and to make space for exhibits, programs, and collections storage. Our original building was a small storefront on Court Street that had once been a used car dealership. I love that our new space is open, light, inviting, and in a building with a history in its own right.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Learn from the best, and then pass that knowledge on to the next generation. I have been lucky enough to have two wonderful mentors who challenge me to be better at what I do. I have also learned so much from my fellow museum professionals who are always glad to open their collections storage rooms for me, or let me adapt ideas to our museum. I hope that I never stop learning and I think the best way I can repay those who have invested in me is to do the same for my students.
What are you currently reading?
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration, by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is such an honor to serve with my fellow board members who are all gifted museum professionals, and I have learned so much from their expertise. Our museums are very different, but whether you come from a small museum or a large one, you will find welcoming and encouraging people in the OMA.
Photo Caption: Jessica Cyders, Curator/Registrar, Southeast Ohio History Center