Mara Kurlandsky, Project Coordinator for Digital Engagement at National Museum of Women in the Arts

In my interview with Mara Kurlandsky, we talked all things digital from NMWA’s website to the social media campaigns she was responsible for that included #5WomenArtists and #dayoffacts. She provided some great insight and lessons/tips that I plan to utilize as I continue to develop my own web project.

After inquiring how she got involved with the more digital side of museums and reminisced on the early days of the Internet, we got into the “nitty-gritty” of what she does and deals with on a daily basis. I was curious how she handled any hesitancy from other staff that may not be as open to the digital world and open access content. Social media and online collections gives so much to the online visitors, but where is the context lost? Is it lost? These are some of the questions posed by staff who are not sure the benefits to providing for the digital audience. Curators, who have already taken art and history and have contextualized their collection now have to consider how they can translate to a digital audience. Mara is in the school of thought that everything should be given free with entire collections being online and fully searchable and with the tools we have on hand, the museum can reach an audience across the world. But, she understands staff’s fear of giving up a level of control when this does happen. What do you guys think of this “Utopian” idea of full, open access? Do you feel the pros outweigh the cons? Do online objects still end up being conceptualized the way curators intended?  Or is there less control in the digital realm?

Being that NMWA is privately owned there is a little bit more leeway when it comes to budget and funding for digital endeavors. They do have some staff that can do some technical work and they also use an outside contractor to maintain digital formats. The success of #5WomenArtists helped also solidify the need to incorporate digital activities into the museum doings because of the outreach, promotion, and participation that occurred during it. Her greatest advice when it comes to money is “to just ask.” And she is right! What is the worst that can happen? They say no? You’ll never know what you can get unless you ask. This is a hesitancy we experience at LIM. Our budget is extremely tight and limited. Sometimes we move on from ideas or suggestions because we know chances are slim, but how many opportunities are missed because we didn’t take the risk?

Collaboration between different institutions can be hard to initiate, but once you have those relationships established, the process for getting others involved is easy.  To build those relationships, Mara has reached out to connections she has known from past conferences, grad school, etc. to see if they would participate in #5WomenArtists and #dayoffacts.  Again, to her, there is no harm in asking. Don’t be afraid to ask especially if it is something you are enthusiastic about! (Performing interviews like this is also a great way to build connections, I told Mara to include me on any upcoming projects she may endorse!)

Thank you again, Mara for speaking to me! I will take the insight and tips you provided me as I move forward to help bring LIM into the digital age!


  1. Elizabeth G. says:

    I think Marla has some wonderful advice about not being afraid to ask other museum professionals to collaborate on projects such as #5WomenArtists – making connections can lead to building rapport within the museum community.

  2. Mary Mathias says:

    I really like Mara’s advice to not be afraid to ask. Like you said, Andrea, you’ll never know unless you ask. I think it’s important to have the supporting data and information to back up your request, too. I also like Mara’s related advice to not be afraid to try a project. Yes, it may fail, but again, you won’t know unless you try. If a project does fail, there’s a lot that can be learned from the experience.

  3. Robin Reif says:

    interesting to here how different social media is utilized differently. I have followed this museum and appreciate all the strides they make in highlighting what women in art are doing now.

  4. kpolesky says:

    I can certainly relate to Marla burning out at her job at a consultancy firm and wanting/needing that more personal interaction with one museum. And I love how she just kind of fell into a tech job and definitely going to look into classes at General Assembly.

  5. Mara’s approach to conveying to stakeholders how much work it takes to accomplish a big project was great – tracking hours and the amount of work that went into it and packaging it into stats that help leadership understand how funding is used and why it’s needed. It’s sort of the reverse of how we’ve been talking about metrics and understanding leadership’s goals; when the museum wants to accomplish something, this would help give a clear understanding of what goes into planning and carrying out a project.

    1. Jenna Stepp says:

      Agreed! Investments paid out to external companies are easy to track, but seeing how much time internal resources commit to a project provides more transparency into the full investment. Especially, as she points out, many people become very committed and work well above and beyond. By demonstrating how much effort initiatives take to run successfully, it’s easier to make the case of why new hires are needed and where their hours will be allocated.

  6. Jenna Stepp says:

    I really enjoyed hearing more about #5WomenArtists came up and how it’s been managed and promoted. This is a great example of collaboration and participation made easy. Mara points out that having a low barrier to entry – just respond! – definitely contributed to its success, but it’s fantastic to see that some took participation much further by adding their content to the conversation.

  7. Zoey Washington says:

    Love this museum so it was great to hear from Mara. It was interesting to hear the slight back and forth that she has encountered with allowing content to be freely accessible online to all visitors versus the more traditional school of thought that encourages only a fraction of the content to be published online.

  8. Kelly McKenna says:

    I like Mara’s observation about the utopian idea of openness, and how this can clash with copyright regulations. She makes a great point about old website copy and if nobody remembers who wrote it, there is no way to check what sources were and if information is accurate. As the digital landscape evolves, it’s important to maintain systems for fact-checking and accuracy. Since websites often have multiple contributors, I think that some level of editorial oversight is important.

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