Even though Peter Olson didn’t launch the NIU Art Museum’s blog, the assistant director ultimately become responsible for its care and feeding.
Turns out he’s doing an “awesome” job.
Best Colleges Online applauded the NIU Art Museum this summer on its list of “50 Awesome Art Museum Blogs,” recognizing web-based vehicles that “give visitors an inside look at what it takes to keep a museum going” and offer “fantastic resources for those who want to get more out of their local art outlets.”
“The blog was actually started by one of our grad students a few years ago. Those people tend to be the most technologically savvy. She was just bored one day and said, ‘I think I’ll start a blog.’ It was easy for her to do, and we would add to it,” Olson says.
“When she was finally graduating, I thought it best that I learn how to do it and so I did. I’ve been maintaining it the last couple years,” he adds. “We have plenty of outlets for promotion of our programs, but this really was a chance to talk about our behind-the-scenes operations. Most people don’t really know what goes into making a museum exhibition happen.”
Olson’s interest in continuing the blog pleased Jo Burke, director of the museum.
“We had had some experience with process blogs operated by artists such as Gabe Akagawa and Ayomi Yoshida, who had worked with us in workshops and installations. In the same way that it is interesting to get some insight into the artist’s creative process, it can also be enlightening to learn how museum exhibitions come together,” Burke says.
“With the different media of work we show, Pete has to solve lots of installation and hanging challenges. He is very open about sharing what he has learned,” she adds. “Our being listed among the top 50 art museum blogs was a surprise, but I can see how this sort of background information is appreciated.”
Networking opportunities abound through the seeking and swapping of advice, he says: How was an African tapestry hung? What to do with 300 small drawings, only some of which are framed? And what kind of pins work best for that kind of installation?
For museum visitors, the blog is a teaching tool.
“I try to keep things pretty brief while somewhat entertaining and insightful. I want it to be a capsule that people can digest with relative ease, where they can learn something about a museum in less than a minute,” he says.
“You know, everyone has framed art in their home, but do they really have any idea about what kinds of materials were used or what kind of choices were made by the artist? That’s something else I think about when I add to the blog.”
Olson, who updates the blog a couple times a month, hopes the national nod of approval brings more visitors to the NIU Art Museum – both online and on foot.
“Getting nominated for this mention was something completely unpredictable … but there we are, and I’m very honored. It’s more notice for the museum, which I think is excellent because it’s installation time for our new fall shows, and that means more material for me to post,” he says.
“For example, Barbara Peters is showing fashion from her extensive collection, and we’ve been laying colored pieces of paper on the floor where each dress is going to go. Once other stages of the installation are complete, I’m planning a series of photos on how that exhibit came together.”