Thursday, November 8, 2012

change of scene

I've been walking under this sculpture on an almost daily basis for over two years now. Tomorrow will be the last time I do so as LACMA staff. It's time to move on. Honestly, I was ready to move on a long time ago. I tried to stick it out and make the best of it, which I did, but my departure is long overdue.

LACMA is a cluster fuck in many ways (pardon my language). Museum standards, professional ethics, teamwork, trust, cooperation, responsibility, communication . . . all of these words are meaningless within the massive dysfunction that is LACMA. That being said, there are many wonderful people there, and as an institution we somehow manage to accomplish an awful lot.

I've enjoyed working on a wide range of exhibitions with a ridiculous number of colleagues within and without the museum's walls. From the elegant David Smith sculpture retrospective that traveled to the Whitney and Wexner Museums; to the popular Tim Burton exhibition with his eccentric chihuahua-toting assistant; to the awesome Ai Weiwei zodiac animal installation; to the beautifully complex Fashioning Fashion tour to Berlin and Paris; to the fabulous California Design exhibition of mid-century modernism, now set to travel to Tokyo, Auckland, Brisbane, and Massachusetts; to the recently opened Drawing Surrealism exhibition; to name a few highlights.

My problems with LACMA are legitimate, and shared by many others. But my reasons for leaving, and the fact that I never felt at home here, have at least as much to do with my parents dying as anything else. I remember sitting at Black Cat Cafe with Zoe on my first day, reviewing the exhibition schedule, discussing which projects I'd be working on, and being filled with excitement and enthusiasm, ready to dive in whole-heartedly. Then Dad died. I was disoriented and distracted, but I attempted to limp along, partially because I knew that's what he would have wanted, and partially because I didn't know what else to do. I was a zombie, going through the motions but not really present. Then Mom died, and my world crumbled. I had to leave to cope with the emotional and logistical challenges of sudden orphanhood. Nothing about LACMA, or hardly anything else in life, seemed important anymore. I returned after a leave of absence, and tried to reinvest myself, but in hindsight this was an impossible task. My career at LACMA was doomed from the beginning and perhaps never meant to be anything more than an insane transition phase.

So my priorities changed. I realized that working behind the scenes with jaded disgruntled colleagues was not satisfying. I felt impotent and unable to contribute anything to the chaos swirling around me. My job became little more than a paycheck. The passion was gone. And the negativity outweighed any positivity. I also realized that what makes me happy, what gets me excited, is working with animals and museum visitors. So I increased my zoo volunteering, and started applying for public-oriented jobs at the Natural History Museum. And it finally paid off.

I cannot articulate how appealing the idea of a FRESH START is to me at this point in my life. It's not LACMA's fault, and perhaps no one can understand, but every time I walk the halls I think of my parents and the many days I dragged my hollow soul through those passageways, galleries, and offices; struggling to remain focused during meetings; the endless days sitting in my office trying to get through exhibition agreements and emails while trying to simultaneously make arrangements for each of my parents' memorial services. There's the bench in the east garden where I talked on the phone to my father for the last time, his speech slightly slurred and loopy from the leukemia quickly stealing him away from us; and the street a few blocks away where I received the phone call from my neighbor in San Diego telling me that my mother was dead. I just can't be here anymore. The place is too heavy with grief, too full of negative experiences. So I'm leaving, tomorrow.