This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far.
As a brand new member to the MCN community, Rebecca Friday, a digital media production and museum interpretation freelancer currently at the National Gallery, was happy to hear about all the great volunteer opportunities surrounding the 50th anniversary and jumped at the chance to participate in the #MCN50 Voices project. A few weeks ago, she chatted with Yvel Guelcé, Director of Infrastructure Technology at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, about the MCN community, career trajectories, and the future of technology in museums.
Yvel Guelcé and Rebecca Friday
Unlike me, who attended undergrad and grad school with the intention of working in/with museums, Yvel didn’t come to this position through the most traditional of paths—he started his career in sports. As an undergraduate at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, he decided to study computer technology, figuring that it could ultimately take him anywhere. He worked a few odd jobs after school (who doesn’t?) before landing at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). However, it was the mentorship of a talented boss that brought him into the museum world, where he’s been ever since.
Yvel impressed upon me the importance of enjoying and respecting who you work with and for. When his boss at NCAA, Rhonda Winter, took a job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, she called him after a year and ask him to join. Yvel said yes without hesitation. I love this story because Yvel was willing to enter a completely new field based on his confidence in a mentor. And it worked out! He’s been working in museums for the last 13 years and continues to enjoy it. When Rhonda left the Indianapolis Museum of Art two years later, Yvel briefly considered moving on as well. Fortunately, Yvel clicked instantly with his new boss, Rob Stein. Yvel says he feels like his career really launched and he dove head-first into art history-related technology and ways to make it interesting to visitors.
Again, this impressed upon me, the value of a supportive and inspiring manager, supervisor, or mentor.
I have only worked contract and freelance projects, both in museums and for museums. So Yvel’s trajectory couldn’t differ from mine more. However, it was nice to chat with someone who held many of the same core beliefs about museums, technology, and the field in general. We agreed that most museums are still just in the beginning stages of adapting technology. Museum staff are often hesitant at first—technology and change can be scary! However, the results are often positive in the long run. In my role as freelance content writer and producer, I am constantly thinking about the visitor and creating the most dynamic and inspiring experience in the museum. Technology has enabled us to diverge from the traditional and reach visitors who might not ordinarily feel comfortable in the museum space.
In his current position as Director of Infrastructure Technology at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (TCMI), Yvel collaborates with the six people on his team who take care of the entire gallery’s technology and staff needs. Gallery technology at TCMI accounts for 70% of his work load, which includes planning, implementation, and maintenance. Currently, the museum uses touch screen interactives, lighting, sound, and a new interactive which includes a VR headset. This interactive allows the visitor to feel as if they are a tightrope walker in a circus act.
Since beginning at TCMI in 2013, Yvel has noticed that it is more focused on family learning than when he worked in an art museum. He also feels that his current institution is more collaborative and open to idea sharing across the institution. He says this is “Not necessarily a strength, it’s a different approach.”
The biggest challenge his institution faces? “Budget is a big one, always trying to get the most of the resources available,” Yvel tells me. Also, “getting outside of your space to learn new things.” Although Yvel and I share a passion for exploring new museums and cultural institutions, he conceded that it is often a challenge to widen the sphere of his everyday tasks. But when he can he enjoys attending conferences, learning new skills, and visiting new places.
When not working at the museum, Yvel likes to spend as much time as he can with his two kids. As he told me, “They are my hobby.” Probably the best way to get away from screens? Camping, cub scouts, hiking, and working the yard.
As a new member of the MCN community, I was curious about Yvel’s thoughts on it. He assured me that it’s a great community that that is diverse and welcoming. Although he might be biased because he has served on the board, after attending the conference for 9 or 10 years, I think I’ll trust his judgment. Although Yvel has yet to attend the infamous karaoke sessions, he explained that he has made many friends from many institutions over the years and it this has served him well. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to dive into MCN with the 50 Voices project and look forward to seeing everyone in November in Pittsburgh!