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I don’t know of a better measure of what people truly love than where they spend precious time when they have a choice.
This is true of museum visitors, of course. With so many wonderful things to do in Pittsburgh, people come by the hundreds of thousands to Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, The Andy Warhol Museum, and Carnegie Science Center to see beloved works of art and fascinating scientific artifacts and to experience the joy of learning. It’s true of staff, too; I’m always amazed by how many off-duty colleagues I see at openings, evening programs, celebrations, and weekend gallery walks, not because they have to be there but because they love being part of what’s happening across Carnegie Museums.
And it may be truest of all for our volunteers. Last year an impressive 665 people gave more than 59,000 hours in volunteer service to Carnegie Museums. (You’ll read about six of them in this issue.) What could be a more powerful tribute to the relationship between our museums and the community we serve than such devotion?
Volunteers represent a cherished link between the community and the museums. On a daily and weekly basis, they bring the community into the museums and the museums into the community—serving not only as invaluable contributors but also as energetic ambassadors.
Today, perhaps, that ambassadorship is a more important role than ever. In a time when the tensions and divisions within American society are commonly acknowledged, it is a real privilege to work in an institution dedicated to building and enriching community, alongside so many from the community who are eager to share that work.
“In our volunteers, we see the community joining forces to preserve, protect, and share that common wealth, those treasures that belong to us all.”
The other day I was contemplating The Crowning of Labor, the landmark mural by John White Alexander that surrounds the Grand Staircase at the heart of our Oakland museums. What struck me is that at every level it is full of people: the steelworkers represented at work on the first floor, the muses, arts, and graces depicted on the second, and the Pittsburghers who were sketched out, but never completed, on the third. While the mural may seem quaint, reflecting typically 19th-century notions of social uplift and economic progress, to me it vividly represents Carnegie Museums’ founding dedication to the people of Pittsburgh and the inspirations they share. I’ve even come to terms with the incompleteness of the mural, left unfinished at the time of Alexander’s death. To me that section has come to suggest the never-finished work of community building.
As museum people, we at Carnegie Museums know that art and science endure throughout the conflicts and controversies of particular moments, through changes in the economy and geopolitical dynamics. We know that art and science speak to everyone and are rightly understood as the common wealth of all members of society. In our volunteers, we see the community joining forces to preserve, protect, and share that common wealth, those treasures that belong to us all.
Next time you see a volunteer in your favorite museum, say thank you! And if you are a volunteer, allow me to thank you on behalf of our museums and our city.
Jo Ellen Parker
President & CEO
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
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