A Celebration of Creativity: 3 Reasons to Go See the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s Annual Staff Art Show

By Meghan E. Gattignolo

Not everyone gets to express their creativity at work, but at least once a year, staff members here at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center do! Call it a perk of the job. About 12 years ago, Curator of Exhibits Terri Jordan staged a staff art show on an inspired whim. The show was meant to be a one-time celebration of all the creative people on staff. Little did she know at the time how popular the show would become.  

Turns out that guests liked seeing what Museum staff members can create, too. The following year, regular visitors started asking about the next staff art show. Every year since that first show, with the exception of 2020, the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center has celebrated all its staff’s creativity with a summer exhibit in the Lobby. Not only has the show become an expectation, it’s also a cornerstone of the Museum’s identity as a collaborative and creative workplace. Here are three reasons you can’t miss the latest staff art exhibit. 

Shows off hidden talents 

It has always been a delightful surprise for staff members to find out about their fellow coworkers’ hidden talents and interests. Everyone has the capability to be creative, but some bury their creative urges a little deeper than others. Learning about the marketing manager’s photography skills, or the exhibit associate’s delicate stone sculptures, or that the events manager is actually a pretty talented artist in her own right is a special kind of joy. Of course, we can’t forget there are a few staff members who are accomplished artists already – like Exhibit Curator Terri Jordan and Executive Director Frank Lott – and it’s always a pleasure to see which of their works they choose to share for staff art. On the other end of the spectrum, it speaks volumes about the character of a staff member when they are willing to put their own amateur artworks up on the wall next to professional artists. Most importantly, the staff art show throws a spotlight on many staff members who don’t have a public face that museum-goers know. 

Reveals what staff members care about 

Working next to the same people everyday, it’s often easy to forget that everyone is more than just their work title and live deep and multifaceted lives outside the office. While an exhibit shows off the hidden talents of the staff, it also reveals a little more about who they are as people. An artist’s choice of subject matter is important to them. Personally, as someone who participated in the exhibit in the past, submitting material for the staff art exhibit was always something I looked forward to as a chance to express myself. Last year, I contributed a photograph I took of my daughter exploring nature in a place we both love spending lots of time together. Other staff members have included art that revealed something deep about their own personalities, personal life or even something as simple as their favorite animal. 

A rare and unique show 

Not many museums allow their staff space to showcase their own work. However, a precious few museums do. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, for example, has an annual staff art show that’s been going on continuously since the 1930s. However, until last year the show had been private, limited to staff and their family only. In 2022, the museum finally decided to open up this long-standing Met tradition for public eyes.  

One of the most interesting things about a staff art show is how eclectic the displayed work is.  Most art exhibits that visitors see at our Museum follow a theme or feature artwork by a single artist or group collective. This show celebrates the talents of many people with their own personal aesthetic and favored medium. It’s an exciting surprise to discover what forms these staff artistic expressions will take.  

Find out more about the talent that makes up the staff at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s Annual Staff Art Show, on view now in the Museum Lobby until October 22nd! 

Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters. 

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