Katie Cronin: Where did you go to college and what did you study?
Rebecca Schapp: I attended San Jose State University and I received my BA and MA in Art. My undergraduate studies focused on studio art with an emphasis on small scale sculpture and jewelry making. My graduate program was focused on arts administration.
KC: How did you begin your career in the arts? Did you originally start your career in a different field?
RS: I was introduced to the arts at a very young age. We always had art activities going on at home and my parents encouraged the arts. Currently, three out of four siblings have a career in the arts. My sister studied fashion design, my brother designs and builds theatre sets for the Renaissance Theatre in Berlin, Germany, and I went to work in an art and history museum.
I always had an interest in art and enjoyed taking classes. Initially, I thought I would go into elementary school teaching. However, there were a few transformational moments for me that helped tip the scale. When I was living in Berlin, I attended the German-American bi-lingual John F. Kennedy School. At the same time the children of American-born artist Edward Kienholz were attending the school. My art teacher took advantage of this opportunity and arranged for a class field trip to his studio in Berlin. It was such a valuable experience to be exposed to such an important artist. Another time, when I was finishing my undergraduate work, I met an art historian who was working on a Pre-Columbian exhibition and publishing a related catalogue. She was looking for volunteers to help with all aspects of the exhibition. I assisted her and realized that I really enjoyed this type of work. These experiences were the beginning stepping stones of my life-long career in museum work.
KC: What are your responsibilities as the Director of the de Saisset Museum?
RS: As Director, I provide leadership and management of all aspects of the Museum, which is one of only three in the South Bay to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. Among my responsibilities are oversight of collections management, permanent and special exhibits, budget and facilities, fundraising, and volunteer development which includes Docents, Collection Volunteers, and the Museum Enhancement Board.
KC: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
RS: I enjoy working at an educational institution which has a museum that showcases thought-provoking exhibits and educational programs that focus on art and history. We are able to work with many young people and provide them with professional training opportunities. It is wonderful to see students take an interest in the arts and pursue a career in our field. You come to quickly understand that you have had an impact on their lives and carry some slight responsibility for their career selection.
I also enjoy seeing very young children experience the "ah-ha" moment within the Museum, either through a hands-on art activity or by looking at a particular artifact. When their face lights up with excitement and enthusiasm, we know we have done our job.
I also enjoy meeting all of the different people we encounter in our work from artists to volunteers, docents, and students. We never have a dull moment and it makes the work interesting, fun, and always challenging.
KC: What advice would you give someone thinking about pursuing a museum career?
RS: Visit a variety of museums and expose yourself to what they are doing. Get involved by volunteering some of your time and learning about the inner workings of the organization. This will help you decide if you like this type of environment and work and if museums are the right fit for you. As you pursue your academic studies make sure you always pair it with practical experience. The more internships, jobs, or volunteer assignments you can incorporate and parallel with your studies the more it will help you shape your area of interest. It will also help you build your resume. We have a variety of museum studies and art programs within the greater Bay Area and across this country. Take a look at some of these programs and understand their strengths and differences. Utilize the resources you have around you—your faculty, museum professionals, and mentors—to conduct informational interviews and discussions in order to get their feedback. They can provide you with a wealth of knowledge and information as well as act as a sounding board as you meander through making your decisions.
KC: What hobbies do you do in your free time?
RS: I enjoy walking, biking, reading, spending time with family, fiber arts and some metal work.