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PACSCL Spotlight: Amplifying BIPOC Voices in the Field, Jen Tanglao

An interview with Jen Tanglao

What is your role?

I am the Collections Stewardship Assistant at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

How did you get into the field?

As with many museum professionals, I entered the field in a roundabout way. I was always intrigued by the humanities and cultural sector and could see myself contributing as a public servant, though I didn’t know in what capacity. After college, I went through some difficult experiences and began taking art classes and visiting art museums to find some solace. It was during this time I realized I wanted to take part in caring for and preserving collections so others could have access to them and perhaps find healing and personal meaning in them during a museum visit the way I did. Shortly after that realization, I applied for a part-time visitor service position at a historic house in my hometown of Chicago, and the rest is history!

What is your favorite collection item at your institution? 

As I have only been at the Rosenbach for three months, I am still learning about our collections, so I can’t say I have a favorite just yet. I will say that I have really enjoyed discovering what objects we have through our stewardship activities, such as inventorying our collections. About a month ago, my colleagues and I were inventorying our collections of prints and drawings, and I learned we have some richly colored prints by the Italian artist Romeo Costetti circa 1929 depicting Venetian Carnival-goers decked out in beautiful costumes.

Tell us about your experience in the museum field?

I have about five years of experience in the museum field and still consider myself an emerging professional. I knew going into this career that you would have to slowly work your way up, so I started with a part-time position and took on many internships before and during graduate school at various institutions of different sizes, ranging from art museums, historic homes, an architecture and design museum, and even a zoo. I wanted to learn as much as I could about all the disciplines within the field and where I would fit best, so I interned in different departments, including visitor services, education, and volunteer management. I eventually landed on collections management and registration, where I found I was adept at object handling and data management.

How do you think your experience as BIPOC influences your work as a GLAM professional?

I’m interested in diversifying the museum field with more BIPOC professionals, so I often reflect on how we can improve our profession’s work culture as a whole and provide access to museum resources to younger audiences who may one day consider working in this field.

If you weren’t a museum professional what would you want to be?

So many things! An artist, yoga instructor, interior designer, archeologist, creative director, farmer, park ranger, and food critic (well, less of a critic and more of a professional eater!).

If you could give advice to emerging professionals, what would it be?

As exciting as it may seem to work in the museum field, it’s necessary to understand how difficult it can be. To get a foot in the door, most people must often volunteer, take unpaid internships, or work part-time for years on end just to accumulate the skills necessary for entry-level positions. This is not feasible for everyone, which lends itself to gatekeeping. After obtaining years of experience and receiving the necessary degrees, people often find that the job market is extremely competitive and usually does not pay well. On top of all that, those that are BIPOC can oftentimes feel isolated due to the lack of diversity in the field. However, despite all the misgivings, the work we do in the museum field is important and truly rewarding as we are the caretakers of our history. I think it’s important to maintain this perspective throughout one’s journey in the museum field, but we also can’t ignore the fundamental issues that are at play (difficult entry into the field, unpaid internships, low wages, and lack of diversity). More and more institutions are working to rectify these issues, and it feels like the museum field in general is becoming more transparent and open to change, so I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction.  

For more tangible advice, I would say take on as many opportunities for building your resume as you can afford (both mentally and financially), and stay in touch with the people you have worked with for references and networking purposes.

What are you currently reading or listening to?

I’m slowly making my way through One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, who also wrote Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ve been enjoying the magical realism genre since reading his works and may explore Isabel Allende next. I recently started reading Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, which I’m really enjoying – just ten pages in, and I began tearing up! I think that speaks to how the author’s story of growing up with an immigrant parent resonates with other Asian Americans. On a similar note, I’ve been listening to the Asian Boss Girl podcast, which has been very validating as they focus on life experiences from the lenses of Asian American women. 

What are three things you enjoy outside of work?

Expressing myself through art, moving my body (via yoga or dance), and spending time in nature.

What is your personal philosophy?

Empathy and self-awareness are powerful tools.

Where would you like to go on a dream vacation?

My answer for this always changes, but currently, I would love to explore Central and South America as well as Iceland.

What have you always wanted to try but never have?

Skydiving! Even though I have a slight fear of heights, I know I’ll enjoy the feeling of the wind beneath me.

You’re happiest when…

I’m deep in a forest surrounded by stillness.