Meet Erin O’Malley, Art on on Campus Outreach Coordinator at Iowa State University

by Meghan Turney

Erin O’Malley currently works as the Art on Campus Outreach Coordinator at Iowa State University.  Erin has a background in museum studies and fell into archiving, considering the two fields are so intertwined. Erin earned her BA in anthropology with a minor in art history and has her MA degree is in history with a concentration and certificate in museum studies. While studying for her masters she focused on educational outreach and building and creating exhibits.

Erin’s introductory job into the field of museums and archives was as an intern at the anthropology museum on her college campus, which got her thinking about museums as a career. Her first full-time job out of graduate school was at the University of Texas-Arlington where she assembled exhibits from the archives and special collections and oversaw the art and artifacts collection. During her ten years at UTA, Erin says, is where she gained most of her professional training. Her favorite exhibit, she curated, was on American Western Art, one of her areas of study. Since UTA doesn’t actively collect fine art, it was nice to get the objects out of storage and displayed them to the public. The exhibit featured interactive elements as well, allowing the users to draw their own western art. For Erin, engaging the visitors is extremely important when creating an exhibit design. The exhibit can be found here.

For Erin, creating an exhibit is all about layers of information in a variety of formats. When asked why, Erin’s response was “visitors are so diverse and they are not going to go through an exhibit how you want them to no matter how well you’ve planned it. So, you just have to give them lots of opportunities to get your points and themes. Very hard to do, but fun.” Sadly, most institutions lack the adequate founding to properly put together exhibits and UTA was no different. In this case, Erin got create with the mounts she used, most of which were made by her, and allowed the pieces to have the proper support while on display.

At Iowa State Erin does a lot of educational work, exhibit wok, as well as maintenance and acquisition of public art pieces. She oversees the Art on Campus collection, which is all the public art on the campus, encompassing over 2,000 items. It is here, where Erin does her outreach, which includes educational programming such as tours and events. Erin is a constant advocate for art, working alongside the art acquisition committee and educating them on the public art and the process. Erin works with the committee to install the public art in their spaces, while teaching the educational value of the pieces. When it involves the public art collection, she and the head of education department work together to coordinate with faculty and students lessons about the art as well as getting it and the museum into the curriculum. Erin also staffs the museum, and handles any press or media that involves public art. Erin points out that although having a social media presence enables a lot of attention and funding from the community, not all archives and museums have the resources accomplish an impactful web presence.

One of her biggest achievements at Iowa State University is the traveling exhibit that is currently taking place and is state-wide and touring at five different venues. (which you can find here.) It is a portrait exhibit done by one artist and involves 39 portraits. To ensure the exhibit would be a success Erin created a lot of outreach and planning around it, including the logistics of transportation to the different venues. The president of the college is currently assisting in the outreach facet, where she’s been holding events at the venues across the state. In just under a year Erin accomplished the undertaking of a traveling, state-wide, exhibition.

When asked how Erin would define cultural heritage, Erin says, “at its core museums and archives are about preserving cultural heritage for future generations and use. Therefore, we always should think long term. Both in what we collect and how we preserve it and make it accessible.” Erin hopes that she can perform future exhibits, like the traveling exhibit, that will impact not only the students at Iowa State University, but the people of Iowa in general. For Erin O’Malley’s complete exhibit history, click here.