Interview with Dr. Laura-Edythe Coleman, Program Director, Arts Administration & Museum Leadership Program, Online
By Jackie DiFerdinando
Jackie: What got you interested in this field?
Dr. Laura Edythe Coleman: A cold 2005 winter day trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum with my mother lead me to this moment today. Perusing the collection of medals by the American Numismatics Society, my mother froze in front of a glass cabinet of bronze medal coins. Crying, she stood moved beyond words by the 1937 Medal, a coin upon which an artist had carved on the front a respectful funeral scene and the words "In Peace, Sons Bury their Fathers." The opposite side of the medal displayed a horrific battlefield, and inscribed the words, "In War, Fathers Bury Their Sons." It was at this moment that I knew the power of museums to promote healing and reconciliation and became determined to save the world: one object, one exhibit, one museum, one community, and one nation at a time. My particular area of research examines cultural heritage institutions in communities reconciling civil conflict. I seek to understand the role of information in the creation of individual and collective identities. In specific, my current research studies the exchange of information in the national museums of Northern Ireland and the United States.
J: Where did you go to school?
LEC: I graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor's in Fine Arts. My major was Music Performance, and my instrument was the flute. For my graduate degrees, I attended Florida State University. I earned a Masters in Library & Information Science, a Graduate Certificate in Information Architecture, and a Ph.D. in Information Science with a focus on Museum Informatics.
J: Where did you work previously?
LEC: I have held posts as an online lecturer for the Graduate Museum Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University and as adjunct faculty for the School of Information at Florida State University. Before I entered higher education, I was a public school teacher with certifications in Music Education K-12 and Computer Science Middle Grades.
J: What brought you to Drexel?
LEC: I am an ambitious person - so the motto "Ambition can't wait," really resonated with me. I see my career at Drexel as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the field of museum studies education in America. I could have taken a "safer" job as a professor in Library Science. But I felt that if we are to make a difference in American museums, I need to take the risk of working outside of the comfort zone of libraries.
J: What is your take on the controversy surrounding the definition of the museum?
LEC: Wow. So. I was fortunate to be on the frontlines of this controversy. First, I submitted my definition to the International Council of Museums (ICOM) during the open call for definitions last year. Then, I flew to Kyoto, Japan, to attend the triennial ICOM conference and the Extraordinary General Assembly on the definition of the word "museum." I found the debates in Kyoto to be passionate and unsupported. Many of my museum colleagues felt strongly about the new definition yet had not done their due diligence to research the underpinnings of the definition language. The new definition offered by ICOM is not perfect - but it is a step in the right direction. My impression is that the museums and countries that disagreed with the new definition did so because it did not reflect their "values." It is important to note that many of the loudest voices in the conversation were also representatives of the most colonial of collections. I am not entirely sure that their reasons for objecting to the new definition wording were aligned with the greater good of museums worldwide. In summary, I was disappointed that the vote to change the definition was postponed indefinitely. And from my own perspective, we failed as professionals to deliver leadership to our museums and nations.