Shannon Foley is the Manager of Education at Mingei International Museum. In the midst of the museum’s renovations, Shannon is leading the way to see the continuation of art education and deepening of relationships with local organizations, such as The New Children’s Museum.
How did you become the Manager of Education at Mingei International Museum?
I began at Mingei in early 2014 as the Education Assistant. As Assistant, I really learned the ins and outs of museum education by helping to run a docent program, logistics of public programming and the cruciality of relationship building. This provided an excellent foundation to manage the department of three full time staff and 50 active docents when I was promoted to Manager of Education in September of 2017.
What elements of your role do you enjoy most? What has been most surprising for you?
I always say that I have the most fun job at the Museum. It brings me such joy to plan and implement programs that bring an authentic voice to our collection of folk art, craft and design. There is such a thriving community of makers and artists in San Diego and it’s such a treat to collaborate and learn from those folks.
With the ongoing renovation of our physical space, I’ve been surprised by how much of an opportunity our closure has been. We’ve been able to collaborate with wonderful organizations like the Athenaeum Art Center, The New Children’s Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego to engage new audiences. The synergy around these partnerships has energized me for our re-opening in Spring 2021 when I can bring all these new relationships back to the Museum with me. Initially the closure was daunting but we’ve turned it into a genuine learning experience.
The Balboa Park Learning Institute recently hosted the Smith Leadership Symposium which focused on leading from where you stand in your organization. Can you share with us in what ways and in which contexts do you see yourself as a leader?
I believe that no matter where you are in your organization you have the capacity to be a leader. We all have so much to learn from one another and the capacity to lead isn’t equal to pay grade. I first try to lead with a positive attitude and demeanor. I see myself as a participative leader in that I love collaborating and receiving input from others on a project. When I was the Education Assistant, I felt ownership over a collaborative program when I felt empowered to contribute my ideas so I try to extend the same participatory nature as the Manager to my colleagues when we are actively planning a program.
You recently completed your Certificate in Arts and Culture Leadership at USD, what about that program was most valuable to you? How will what you learned from the program inform the work you do at the Museum?
It was such a pleasure being in the first Arts and Culture Leadership cohort. With Mingei’s upcoming transformation, I feel I completed this program at the perfect time. I learned so much about all the elements it takes for a museum to become a genuinely welcoming space for all. These elements include simple things like wayfinding and gender inclusive restrooms, to more complex elements like a diverse staff and board. I also learned about how crucial leaning into discomfort can be for an institution’s growth and reputation as a welcoming space. I’m taking all I learned back with me into our new space.
Any advice for emerging leaders in the Park?
Keep learning and stay informed! Museum practices are always changing and it’s wise to hear from lots of perspectives. My favorite blogs are artmuseumteaching.com and nonprofitAF.com. I also recommend getting out of your institution and attending arts and culture events throughout San Diego, especially if you’re looking to grow your network professionally.
What do you like to do outside of work in your free time?
This past year I’ve gotten very into embroidery and needle punch. I enjoy teaching myself new stitches and experimenting with what I can create.
What are you reading, watching, or listening to right now?
I don’t think I’ve missed a Project Runway season since it began airing. I’m very into this new season right now. I’m rooting for Nancy!
What is your favorite spot in Balboa Park?
I love Alcazar Garden. It feels like a hidden oasis inside the Park. There’s always a free bench to take a break on, sit in the sun and admire the gorgeous flowers.