Campus News

Preparator helps create experiences for Georgia Museum of Art’s visitors

Elizabeth Howe is part of the behind-the-scenes team that helps install exhibitions and maintain the permanent collection at the Georgia Museum of Art. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

Elizabeth Howe’s job as a preparator at the Georgia Museum of Art is constantly changing.

She helps install museum exhibitions and maintain permanent collections, which can involve anything from painting walls to hanging artwork.

“We’re the behind-the-scenes people who make the museum look the way that it looks,” Howe said. “Whenever I tell people what I do, they don’t even realize that (preparator) is a job or a career. It’s interesting because there are more labor aspects to it. Yesterday, I spent my entire day painting walls in the gallery. I may spend an entire day making a mount for a small sculptural element. Every day is different.”

When she was younger, Howe was inspired to pursue art because of her interest in the culinary arts. In high school, she took a ceramics class, and she got hooked on creating visual art.

As an art student in college, she interned in exhibition preparation at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. She was able to use her woodshop skills during the internship to build pedestals and exhibition furniture. She worked as the exhibitions preparator at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City before coming to work at UGA. What she really likes about her current job at the art museum is working with art objects. It’s an experience, she said, that not a lot of people get to have.

“We reinstalled our permanent collection a couple of years ago, and that was probably the biggest undertaking that I’ve been a part of here,” Howe said. “It was pretty rewarding because I got to work with all of the curators and help create a new visitor experience.”

The permanent collection consists of works that the art museum owns. In particular, Howe likes Joan Mitchell’s “Close” and Elizabeth Jane Gardner’s “La Confidence” from the permanent collection.

The art museum has 20 to 25 rotating exhibitions per year, and the museum is open free to the public. Howe believes museums are important for preserving art, history and culture.

“We take care of the objects in our collection, which are of cultural significance or historical significance,” she said. “We have a lot of Georgia natives because it’s important to preserve a regional culture. The museum is a great resource for the public.”

Howe enjoys the learning aspect of her job, and her team pushes her to keep learning and take advantage of opportunities to learn and grow in her career. The museum also offers student internships, and Howe enjoys helping them learn. She also recently worked with graduate students to help them prepare and design their exit show.

“I really love Athens,” she said. “This is a great place to work. There are not a lot of museums our size that do the amount of shows we do, so it’s a unique experience.”

She enjoys the unique interactions that she gets to have with artworks and working with the team to create the best experience for visitors.

“There’s a lot of people who put a lot of work into what happens in the galleries,” Howe said. “It’s really a team effort. It takes a lot to get to the final exhibitions. It’s so exciting to go on the opening nights and see the visitors experiencing it for the first time.”

In her spare time, Howe likes spending time with her dog, Jazz, and cooking. Her love of cooking led her into hunting. She enjoys hunting for self-sustainability and wildlife conservation and to become less reliant on supermarkets and grocery stores.

“It’s a different way to think about where these things come from,” she said. “It’s a lot different to cook a meal for your friends or family that you’ve made from the beginning of it. It’s labor intensive but very rewarding.”