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Staff Spotlight: Melinda Simms

Melinda Simms, MoPOP Collections Manager

As part of our 2020 celebration honoring 20 years of the Museum of Pop Culture, we'll take time to get to know some of the folks who help make MoPOP a life-changing force in our community.

On our blog throughout the celebratory year, we'll highlight our staff members and get to know their pop culture passions, as well as provide a bit of insight into the efforts they put forth behind the scenes at our nonprofit museum.

Last month, we checked in with Robert Rutherford, MoPOP's Manager of Public Engagement. For this post, we chatted with MoPOP’s Collections Manager, Melinda Simms.

What is your job title and description?

Melinda: My job title is Collections Manager. That means I am responsible for managing the department that oversees the care of the collections, and the facilitation of incoming and outgoing loans. Our collections staff includes me, a registrar, an assistant registrar, and a mountmaker/preparator.

Between us, we do everything from cataloging and photographing objects for our internal database, tracking temperature and relative humidity in all our galleries and work spaces, monitoring for pests, making mounts for every artifact on view; packing, crating, and traveling with outgoing loans from the collection to museums worldwide, maintaining artifact cleaning and rotation schedules, monitoring and facilitating professional conservation for the objects, assuring that each of the 100K+ objects in the collection has a trackable location, assuring that our guidelines and actions adhere to museum industry and standards and ethical practices, working with lenders to the collection to keep all loan agreements updated, and working with our insurance underwriters.

That’s a quite the heavy lift! When did you start working at MoPOP? Describe the journey that took you here.

Melinda: I started working at MoPOP in 2008. I grew up in Boston, MA, and I have always been interested in art, artifacts, museums, and collecting. I have a BFA in illustration from Syracuse University.

I realized two things very early in life: One, that I love Christmas, and two, that I have a penchant for collecting. When it became apparent that I could satisfy both those passions and be gainfully employed, the light bulb turned on. Every day is like Christmas — opening boxes and folders and files to reveal treasures. Plus, my own personal space can remain relatively free from large collections of objects (ie “stuff”).

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I traveled around the country working at different museums and cultural institutions. I worked on the Smithsonian Folklife technical crew in Washington, D.C. for two summers. I lived, worked, and taught at Aullwood, an Audubon Society nature preserve and organic farm in Dayton, Ohio. I’ve worked with material collections at the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico and the Oregon Historical Society in Oregon.

I then took a break to go back to school for my master’s in museum studies at JFK University in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I completed that, I worked with collections at the Jefferson County Historical Society in Port Townsend, Wash. and the Port Angeles Fine Art Center. Immediately before moving to Seattle and joining MoPOP, I was living in Houston, Texas, working as an incoming loans registrar at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

How is MoPOP different than other museums?

Melinda: I’ve worked in art museum and history museums. MoPOP is a loose hybrid of both of those.

When I moved to Seattle in 2008, MoPOP was still known as the Experience Music Project, and music is what originally interested me in applying for the position. I grew up listening to music with my parents and going to concerts with them, and then later, with my friends. When I lived in Portland in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, many of my friends and my housemates were musicians, so there was constant exposure to sound and record collections and live venues and new artists.

Once Experience Music Project rebranded to include science fiction, and then the much larger pop culture realm, was when the possibilities became endless. Music is still my first love, but I can recommend the heck out of the Battlestar Galactica reboot series as well as almost any Marvel movie.

MoPOP is also a place where, regardless of your job title, you always have some knowledge in the realm of pop culture — even if you don’t think you do. We have curatorial content experts, but your desk mate or your lunch companion is just as likely to be able to hold a conversation on anything from muscle cars to James Beard award-winning chefs to Finnish sauna culture to vampires. Everyone brings something interesting to the table because everyone interacts with and in the world differently. That is the fun that is MoPOP.

How has collections and archive management and preservation changed since you’ve been working in the field?

Melinda: The short answer is it really hasn’t. MoPOP’s collections staff ranges in age from late 20s to late 50s, and the thing we have in common professionally is that we all adhere to the same set of industry-defined standards. Technology has replaced paper and pencil for record keeping, and archival materials have evolved scientifically over time, but our jobs as stewards and protectors of the objects, and the professional ethics defined in how we do that, have not.

If I had to point to one major change I see, it’s that museums in general are being asked to find creative ways to have visitors and guests more readily interact with the objects. This could mean holding a reception in a gallery, allowing musicians to play collection instruments, or hosting an art performance or painting workshop among the artifacts on view. Whatever the deviation may be from the standard “no," collections professionals are being asked more and more to work with marketing, development, education, and events staff to reach agreeable comfort levels with what it means to provide more open access, while simultaneously assuring the safety and security of the objects.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Melinda: Intangibly, my favorite part of the job is prescribing order to large volumes of information. Collections people are uber-detailed, usually by nature, and certainly by profession. We strive to have every 't' crossed and every 'i' dotted with regards to each object in our care. We label and re-label. We color code. We document. All day, every day.

Tangibly my favorite part is traveling with our objects. Whether we are couriering them as a loan to another museum’s exhibition, or shepherding our own exhibition to another museum for display, it is not only satisfying to have our materials seen outside of MoPOP and Seattle, but enriching to meet other museum colleagues and tour institutions nationally and worldwide.

Check out our 'Into the Vault' blog series to learn more about some of the artifacts Melinda and co. care for in our collection. Plus for contests, the latest news, and behind-the-scenes content, be sure to follow us on YouTubeFacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Like what you see? Support our collection and exhibitions by making a donation to MoPOP today!

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About the author

Hannah Sandle is the Marketing Copywriter at MoPOP.

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