Stephanie Mayer Heydt says she's been drawn to museums all of her life. In January, Heydt, 37, became the curator of the Gulf Coast Museum in Largo. Her love of art and research create a passion for the job.
1What is a curator? I think of a curator as an interpreter of culture. Like a writer presents ideas, a curator puts together works of art to tell a story. It is the story of our cultural heritage. In the day to day, it means I do a lot of research. I analyze art objects, paintings, etc. and decide how they are best displayed to tell stories.
2What led you to this work? I was a history major in college and became an intern at the H.F. Johnson museum at Cornell University. I just loved working with the objects and prints. Working in a museum is incredibly rewarding. For me, it is a balance of creativity and intellect. I love the research, too. I recently completed the training to be a fine arts appraiser. I feel this training helps me be more informed in my job. Overall, it is just fascinating to work with wonderful people and their artwork.
3Where did you gain your experience? Do you have a specialty? I have been very lucky. I've gained great museum experience and I've been mentored by wonderful people. Some of the places I've worked and been an intern include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston University Art Gallery, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University and the Smithsonian . Through these experiences I've made 19th and 20th century art my specialty.
4What has excited you about working at the Gulf Coast Museum? I am impressed by the deep commitment to the arts from both the staff and the community. The museum is moving in exciting directions. Some of the programs we're considering include an exhibit of African-American artists, a photography show and a quilt exhibition. We're hoping to put together some thematic exhibitions with local items on loan because there are some fantastic private art collections here in Tampa Bay.
5What is something about your professional life that most people don't know? I think people are surprised that museum work requires so much education. I knew early on that I would have to get a master's degree to work in this field. With the support and encouragement of my husband, I have continued my education and last week I was awarded my Ph.D.